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Failed Back Surgery – FBSS

Unique to back pain, failed back surgery syndrome, or FBSS, is a term used to describe instances when a patient does not experience relief from symptoms they had prior to surgery after their operation. Surgeons do make every effort to pinpoint the true source of back pain. However, no back surgery is more than 95 percent predictive of a successful outcome. If surgery is unsuccessful, another form of pain management may be necessary.


The main reason for back surgery that does not treat a patient’s pain is often because the initial procedure did not address the true source of the discomfort. Possible reasons for FBSS include muscle deconditioning, degeneration of adjacent facet joints, scar tissue, undetected disc herniation, or nerve compression at another location.

Since pain is subjective by nature, it’s often difficult to confirm with absolute certainty that an identified source is the only possible reason for a patient’s reported pain. Although back surgery is only performed if there is at least one possible cause that has been identified through image testing. FBSS may also result from:

  • Preoperative nerve damage that did not heal
  • Nerve damage that occurs during surgery
  • Inadequate decompression of a nerve root
  • Degeneration spreading to an adjacent level
  • Spinal fusions that never form following surgery


It’s not always clear that back surgery has failed immediately after a procedure since there will almost always be some degree of discomfort during the initial healing process. Additionally, post-surgery medication may mask pain that’s still coming from a secondary source.

If pain or discomfort continues beyond the initial healing period, which is usually the first 2-3 weeks following surgery, it may be a sign that surgery was not successful. Symptoms often associated with FBSS include:

  • Dull, aching pain in the previously affected area
  • Pain experienced in a different area of the back
  • Sharp or sudden pain that occurs with movement
  • Radiating pain felt in the arms or legs


For patients not wishing to rush into another surgery, which isn’t recommended in some cases, another option is to consider chiropractic care. Chiropractic care alone includes a combination of techniques that can treat both muscle and joint issues and nerve problems.

Alternative pain management treatments like acupuncture also produce positive results for some patients. Pain management in the form of nutrition recommendations and dietary adjustments can also benefit patients who’ve experienced a failed back procedure. Treatment for FBSS may also include:

  • Physical therapy
  • Physiotherapy involving mechanical force and movements
  • Psychotherapy

The purpose of spine surgery is to correct an anatomical issue with a structure in the back that’s pressing on nerves. FBSS occurs when there turns out to be another contributing factor to the pain beyond what was identified. Since there are many non-surgical treatments available, patients may find meaningful relief by trying other options not previously explored.

Contact Allied Pain & Spine Institute today to schedule a consultation.

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