Why They Call It ‘Failed Back Surgery Syndrome’

Why They Call It ‘Failed Back Surgery Syndrome’

Chronic back pain has a way of infiltrating so many nooks and crannies of life. It can get in the way of taking vacations with family, doing the exercises that you love most, and even interfere with proper sleep. All of these pieces over time can feel incredibly detrimental to a good quality of life. 

It’s not difficult to see why many people who suffer from chronic back pain eventually opt for surgery in hopes of a fix. When your pain feels all-encompassing, anyone would want to find a solution to the problem. However, while surgery can sound like a strong option, oftentimes it does more damage than good long-term. 

Which conditions are most often referred for surgery and what are the associated risks? What every patient considering surgery should know— before going under the knife— including alternative treatment options.

The Risks of Surgery for Back Pain

First of all, the decision to move forward with any surgery should not be taken lightly. 

When it comes to the back, there are considerably more factors to be taken into account. According to a 2016 review, 74.6% of back surgeries failed to completely relieve pain. Further, 13-35% of these initial surgeries also end up requiring revision surgeries. That’s a lot of time under the knife for some relatively uncertain results. 

Some of the more common injuries that are often referred to surgery are disc herniations and severe sciatica. Most of the surgeries are performed in an attempt to provide relief to a nerve root that’s pinched (used to treat sciatica, called “laminectomy” or decompression), or remove a portion of a herniated disc (called a “discectomy”), also meant to relieve pressure. 

One incredibly important caveat to keep in mind with surgery is that there is no “cut” to take away the pain. The goal of any surgery is to remove or alter the physical make-up that may be causing the pain, but unfortunately, surgical removal is not always the answer. So, when an individual chooses to go through with back surgery and finds that it has “failed,” it means that the surgery has not actually relieved any pain— the root cause still exists. 

This is a problem for so many reasons beyond the initial failure to treat the intended cause. For example, in a decompression procedure, sometimes more nerve damage can be sustained during the actual surgery, leading to even larger problems than the original issue. Not to mention, even if everything goes according to plan in surgery, there is still the chance that the nerve doesn’t or isn’t able to heal after the procedure. The act of cutting into the body for any surgery is incredibly invasive and introduces a level of unknown, no matter how proficient the surgeon is at his or her job. 

Additionally, surgery comes with considerable financial costs. Medical bills, plus add in time off from work, medications, and follow-up care appointments, and the whole picture gets to be fairly expensive. 

Conservative Care Options for Chronic Back Pain

Most of the time, it’s best to try conservative care options before going under the knife. Keep in mind that real change often doesn’t happen overnight, so if you choose to try a conservative care route, give it time to work its course. Essentially: healing requires patience. While surgery can sometimes sound like a “quicker” fix, the repercussions from an unsuccessful procedure coupled with the financial setback can lead to long-term agony. 

So what are your conservative care options and what should you expect? 

Your practitioner will work with you to understand your unique pain, your lifestyle goals, and recommend a customized treatment program, often incorporating therapeutic massage, acupuncture, and chiropractic care into your regimen. Chiropractic care is especially helpful in managing pain in the spine and back, particularly disc herniations and chronic sciatic pain. This is due in large part to the gentle adjustments that help to realign your body and provide relief to your entire system. These adjustments (which can include the spine, neck, and extremities) also serve to decrease inflammation, relieve pressure, reduce nerve irritability, and ultimately allow your entire body and immune system to communicate and function better. 

Sometimes, you may be referred to other practitioners who can help with additional aspects of your treatment plan. It’s important to note that when seeking out conservative care, you want to work closely (and consistently!) with at least one medical professional. They can help guide you through the healing process while incorporating appropriate check-ins to evaluate the progress being made and adjust your plan as necessary. 

Conservative care should always be explored first, to allow your body to heal naturally. Only when your other options have been exhausted should you consider more invasive treatments, such as surgery.

Get to the root of your pain. Schedule your appointment online or call (714) 777-3200.

This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for in-person advice or care from a medical professional.