When a surgeon removes a part of a vertebra that protects the spinal cord, the procedure is known as a laminectomy and is performed to relieve pressure on the spinal cord due to a bulging disc. Most patients recover from the surgery normally and without complications, but occasionally pain in the back persists and a condition known as post-laminectomy syndrome—sometimes referred to as failed back surgery syndrome—develops.

Back pain after a laminectomy can arise for several reasons: in some cases it may be discovered that surgery was not necessary to begin with and there was undue trauma placed on the muscle and nerves; the surgery was unsuccessful; spinal stenosis, or a narrowing of the spinal column, occurred; or a small piece of leftover disc is irritating the spinal cord. Additionally, smokers, studies show, are more likely to develop this syndrome, as are patients who have experienced previous failed surgeries for the back.

Back pain along with leg pain and tenderness where the surgery was performed are the most common symptoms of post-laminectomy syndrome, and the ensuing pain can seriously interfere with a return to normal daily activities and result in psychological problems. Additionally, during the post-surgery phase a physician may notice an abnormal posture or gait in the patient.

A medical examination is necessary to determine what is causing the persistent residual pain, and such as exam will most commonly include imaging techniques such as x-rays, CT scans and MRIs to search for and/or rule out any lingering infections at the surgery site or if there is still a compression of the nerves in or around the spine.

When it comes to treating post-laminectomy syndrome, a doctor may prescribe pain-relieving medications combined with physical therapy utilizing exercises and stimulations to relieve pain and improve mobility. There are also newer specialized therapies that are being used for treating a variety of pain disorders, all of which your physician may consider if more conventional methods prove ineffective.