Back Pain Even After Surgery: Failed Back Syndrome

Nov 08, 2022

After dealing with back pain for months, maybe even years and trying all non-surgical back pain treatments, you decided to go ahead with surgery. The surgery was a success, and for a few months, you finally have the relief you’ve been searching for. But then, suddenly, the pain comes back. What gives? It turns out, you may be suffering from a condition called Failed Back Syndrome. In this article, we will explore the causes and symptoms of this condition, as well as treatment options.

What is Failed Back Syndrome?


If you’ve had back surgery and are still experiencing pain, you may have failed back syndrome (FBS). Even though the name sounds final, it is possible to manage back pain due to FBS and improve quality of life. Let’s take a closer look at FBS, its symptoms, and treatment options.

FBS is a condition that causes chronic pain even after back surgery. It can occur when the original problem was not fully corrected or when scar tissue from the surgery puts pressure on the nerves. In some cases, FBS is caused by nerve damage that occurred during the surgery.

Symptoms of Failed Back Syndrome

The most common symptom of FBS is continuing pain in the low back and legs. The pain may be dull or sharp and can vary from mild to severe. Other symptoms include:

  • Tingling or numbness in the legs
  • Weakness in the legs
  • Difficulty standing or walking for long periods of time


For the diagnosis, doctors can use different methods. Initially, the doctor will look for the more obvious signs during physical examination. For example, identifying the source of back pain, restricted movement in the spine, using a hammer to test the responsiveness of the patient's body etc. Provided that the doctor finds symptoms of FBS, he/she will ask you to get scans such as MRI and CT scans. These scans will help ensure if the pain is actually due to the FBS and not for any other reason that the doctor might have missed in the initial examination. 

Treatment Options for Failed Back Syndrome

Failed back syndrome can be difficult to treat because it is often unclear what is causing the pain. A variety of treatments may be recommended, including physical therapy, epidural injections, and medications. In some cases, repeat surgery may be necessary in an attempt to relieve the pain. Despite treatment, failed back syndrome can be a chronic condition with episodes of flare-ups and remission periods.

  • Medications: Pain relievers, anti-inflammatory drugs, muscle relaxants, and antidepressants may be prescribed to help manage pain.
  • Epidural steroid injections: These injections deliver medication directly to the inflamed area to help reduce swelling and pain.
  • Radiofrequency ablation: This procedure uses heat to destroy the tumors or any outgrowths in the body.
  • Surgery: If the condition is severe and the doctor feels that conservative treatments won’t do any good, surgery is performed.  

What causes Failed Back Syndrome?

Failed back syndrome (FBS), also called post-laminectomy syndrome, is a condition that can occur following surgery to the lumbar spine. The vast majority of patients who undergo surgery for conditions such as herniated discs or spinal stenosis have successful outcomes and experience relief from their pain. However, some individuals continue to have pain even after their surgery for different reasons.

You might also want to read: The reasons for getting a herniated disc

There are a number of potential causes of failed back syndrome. One possibility is that the original problem was not completely resolved by the surgery. For example, if a disc herniation was only partially removed, residual compression on the spinal cord or nerve roots can still lead to pain. Additionally, scar tissue can form around the incision site or at other locations in the spine, causing pain by irritating surrounding tissues. In some cases, the source of pain cannot be determined.

How Failed Back Syndrome is Treated?

Failed back syndrome (FBS) is a condition characterized by chronic pain in the lower back and legs. Even after surgery to correct the underlying cause of the pain, many people with FBS continue to experience pain. While there is no cure for FBS, there are treatments that can help manage the pain and improve quality of life.

Common treatments for FBS include:

  • Medications: Pain relievers, anti-inflammatory drugs, muscle relaxants, and nerve blocks can all be used to help manage FBS pain.
  • Physical therapy: A physical therapist can develop a customized exercise program to help stretch and strengthen the muscles around the spine.
  • Injections: Epidural steroid injections and other types of injections can help reduce inflammation and pain.
  • Surgery: In some cases, surgery may be necessary to decompress nerves or remove scar tissue.

See a Spine Surgeon in Los Angeles

If you have been experiencing back pain after spine surgery, you can consult Dr. Moksha Ranasinghe at Southern California Brain & Spine Surgery. She is an experienced neurosurgeon in Los Angeles who specializes in treating spine conditions. To schedule an appointment, fill out the contact form or call us at 213-369-4583.

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