What Is Failed Back Surgery Syndrome?

Failed back surgery syndrome, as the name implies, describes the outcome of a spinal surgery operation that does not go as the patient and provider had hoped. It’s more of a term than an actual syndrome, but a failed spinal operation generally gets the classification “FBSS.” Today, we take a closer look at why spine surgeries sometimes fail, and can be done to ensure the operation is a success.

Failed Back Surgery

Spine surgeries can fail for a number of reasons, and unfortunately not all of them can be accounted for. Even with the best surgeon operating on your back, spine surgery is no more than 95 percent predictive of achieving the desired result. Here are some of the reasons a spinal operation may fail:

Not True Source of Pain – It’s relatively easy to discern what issue you’re dealing with when a disc is cracked or out of alignment, but if a spinal nerve is causing your pain, it’s not always easy to pinpoint the exact source of pain. If the true pain source isn’t addressed, you’ll still have pain after the operation.

Complications – Things like infections, excessive bleeding, reaction to the anesthetic, etc. These risks are controlled for by your surgical team, but there’s still a possibility of bacteria entering the surgical site or for the surgeon to puncture a blood vessel. Studies have shown that elderly individuals and obese people are at greater risk for complications than the average patient, and while you can’t control your age, if you know you are going to be having spine surgery in the future, try to lose some weight.

Surgical Failure – Surgery has become a much more streamlined and precise process, so surgical mistakes are less and less common, but there’s still the small chance that an action that your surgeon took during the operation caused the surgery to fail.

Structural Failure – Oftentimes the goal of spine surgery is to stabilize a painful joint or structure, whether that means fixing a herniated disc or conducting a spinal fusion operation. If there is a structural break down, either in the body being addressed or the surgical equipment (mesh, cement, screws, etc.), your operation can fail.

Patient Failure – Sometimes patients cause their surgery to fail, and most times they unknowingly do so. Patients usually are anxious to get back to work or to physical activity, but if you overwork your spine too quickly after an operation, you can undo all the repair work that just happened. Listen to your surgeon and your physical therapist to ensure you stay within the boundaries of your rehab.

Managing Expectations

It’s also worth noting that some spine operations have higher rates of success than others. For example, herniated disc surgery has a pretty high success rate, but a spinal fusion operation for a multi-level degenerative disc disease condition is an operation with more potential complications. Estimates suggest that anywhere from 10 to 30 percent of those operations fail for one reason or another.

Because of this, it is important to discuss your expectations with your spine surgeon prior to surgery. You need to make sure you understand the risks and the potential complications. Remember that the majority of spine operations go as planned and will provide mild if not major relief, but we’re not yet to the point where 100 percent of surgeries are successful, so talk with your surgeon about the operation to ensure your expectations are in line with how they foresee the operation going.

For more information on why surgery fails, or if your first operation failed and you want a second opinion, contact Dr. Chang’s office today.

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