Failed Back Surgery Syndrome (FBSS)

Failed Back Surgery Syndrome (FBSS) occurs as a result of spinal surgery. It is characterized by chronic leg or back pain that occurs after back surgery. FBSS can be caused by recurrent disc herniation, altered joint mobility either as a primary or side-effect of the surgery, scar tissue, post-operative pressure on a spinal nerve, joint hypermobility, or loss of condition in the spinal muscles. It can also be caused by depression, anxiety, or sleeplessness after the surgery.

The causes of pain resulting from FBSS can differ. Some causes can be treated directly, such as disc herniation, but others are more difficult to handle. For chronic pain from FBSS, our doctors can use the spinal cord stimulator to relieve your pain and allow you to return to a normal active life.


The cause of pain in FBSS can differ, so the symptoms will also, but some common symptoms are:

  • diffuse pain in legs or back
  • dull pain in legs or back
  • aching pain in legs or back
  • sharp pain or pricking in extremities

Risk Factors

  • diabetes
  • auto-immune disease
  • vascular disease
  • smoking


Diagnosis of FBSS is performed by considering a complete medical history, the onset and description of the pain, and a series of tests. Our doctor may use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computer tomography (CT), or fluoroscopy (live x-ray) tests to diagnose and locate the source of pain.


Possible treatments for FBSS depend on the cause of pain. If the pain is because the reason for the surgery was not completely addressed, another treatment or surgery may be indicated to complete the repair of the initial problem. If the problem is a result of the surgery itself, such as scar tissue causing adhesions, adhesiolysis may be necessary to break up the scar tissue.

Initial treatments can include physical therapy, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), antidepressants, epidural steroid injections, membrane stabilizers, intercathecal morphine pump.

For chronic pain that cannot be treated directly, our doctors can use the spinal cord stimulator to relieve your pain. When the pain is caused by something that cannot be repaired and will not cause further damage if left alone, the pain can be blocked by this small implantable device. The spinal cord stimulator reinterprets that pain signals before they reach your brain so that you experience a gentle tingling instead. This has proven to be very successful in relieving back pain due to FBSS.

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