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Failed Back Surgery Syndrome

“A cause of pain that can be treated without further surgery”

Failed back surgery syndrome describes continued pain following one or more spinal surgeries. The term is controversial as some believe it is not a diagnosis. It unfortunately involves younger patients and numbers in the thousands per year. Risks factors in developing failed back surgery syndrome include a history of anxiety or depression. Of course poor technical planning such as poor patient selection, an inappropriate surgical procedure, incorrect diagnosis can also be a factor. Unfortunately further surgery is often not the solution.

Why your failed back surgery syndrome hurts.

There are many potential areas in the spine that cause pain. Occasionally, the location of the pain is difficult to identify, but surgery is done with the expectation that it will resolve the problem. If the surgery is not successful then it can be considered failed back surgery syndrome but in reality it just means that the surgery was not successful and another search for the location of the pain needs to be started. Sometimes scar tissue forms and starts to compress the spinal nerve as well. This condition is known as arachnoiditis and surgery is usually not considered for this diagnosis. Sometimes a disc herniation may also recur.


• Pain radiating down the arm or leg
• Pain with leg extension
• Arm or leg weakness
• Arm or leg numbness
• Progressive pain and in some cases disability
• One to six months of pain-free status suggests the development of arachnoiditis and is more common with more than one lumbar spine surgery
• Greater than six months of pain-free status suggests a recurrent disc herniation

If you are experiencing pain or weakness in the arm or leg after surgery, you could be suffering from failed back surgery syndrome.
Our expert doctors at Spine & Sports Medicine of New York use expertise in innovative assessments to accurately diagnose the pain associated with failed back surgery syndrome.

Other diseases that can mimic a disc herniation include:

• Fracture
• Infection
• Neoplasm
• Stenosis
• Shoulder osteoarthritis
• Hip osteoarthritis
• Sacroiliac joint dysfunction
• Spinal stenosis • Adjacent level disease
• Inadequate surgical disc decompression
• Inadequate fusion
• Recurrent disc herniation
• Spinal instability

Our Board-Certified Physicians Can Accurately Diagnose the Source of Your Pain

We conduct a thorough clinical evaluation to determine if the pain is generated from a disc herniation as well as other conditions that share similar symptoms. We begin our evaluation of your problem with a complete medical history using detailed information gathering tools followed by a focused physical examination. We then confirm our diagnosis with specialized tests which may include x-ray, CT, electrodiagnostic (EMG) studies, ultrasonography, or MRI.

“No surgery is usually needed to relieve pain related to failed back surgery syndrome”


Treatment will depend on the source of pain. For less severe pain a course of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs) and physical therapy may be helpful. For more severe pain innovated procedures such as epidural steroid injections, lysis of adhesions or a spinal cord stimulator may be helpful.

Here’s what you can expect if one of our pain specialists treats your pain:

• Relief of pain to get you back to living.
• Several treatment options available to target the root of the problem
• Many patients gain considerable to complete relief with the first or second procedure once the diagnosis is confirmed
• No general anesthesia, surgery or prolonged recovery periods to slow you down from your busy schedule
• Thousands of patients have been helped by our innovative approach to disc herniations.


Hazard RG. Failed back surgery syndrome: surgical and nonsurgical approaches. Clin Orthop Relat Res. 2006 Feb;443:228-32.
Panagos A. Rehabilitation Medicine Quick Reference-Spine (ed. Buschbacher R.M.) New York: Demos Publishing; 2010. p. 70-71.

Failed back surgery syndrome

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Really sharp. Great background and credentials. Very accommodating once he knew leaving country on vacation. Picked up previously unknown BP issue in thorough exam and found possible hernia other doctors missed. Laid out complex diagnostic and treatment plan that made a lot of sense and was comprehensive, but also conservative. Did all the right things. New office. Liked him. Very competent staff too. Recommend without reservations.

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