When a back surgery fails to accomplish its objective of pain relief or a return to normal mobility for the patient, a condition known as failed back surgery syndrome (also known to some as post-laminectomy syndrome if that was the specific surgery performed) likely exists. Failed back surgery syndrome sufferers experience a continuation of their pre-surgery pain despite the corrective action taken during a specific surgery.

The goal sought when undergoing any type of back surgery is to see a stabilization of the joints of the spine or a reduction in the pressure being exerting on one or more spinal nerves. After a surgical correction aimed at achieving these goals is completed, patients can expect to see a reduction or elimination of their pre-surgery pain. However, when this pain doesn’t abate it may be due to the fact that the pain never originated in the back but rather from another area. For example, a surgeon may operate on one spot where a nerve is being impacted only to discover, post-surgery, that the patient’s pain was coming from another nerve altogether. Likewise, after back surgery is performed scar tissue builds up around the operated area, and often this tissue can result in additional pain during the post-operative period. Generally, statistics show that failed back surgery syndrome occurs more often after surgeries discectomies—used to treat disc ruptures in the lumbar region of the back—and spinal fusion procedures.

In an effort to correct and alleviate failed back surgery syndrome, a physician may utilize a combination of medications such as steroids and pain-relieving drugs as well as physical therapy and spinal cord stimulation options.