The Truth About Chronic Back Pain and Failed Back Surgery Syndrome

by coachz on November 4, 2009

Neck Pain, Back Pain, and Sciatica: Understanding and Dealing With Failed Back Surgery Syndrome

Spine surgeries are performed for a myriad of conditions and complaints every year here in the United States and around the world. Of the spine surgeries performed, an incredibly high number result in what is known as failed back surgery syndrome.

When referring to the terms spine surgery and back surgery, I will be applying them in their broadest sense, meaning neck, upper, middle, and lower back surgery.

Back surgery is generally the result of a number of complaints and conditions, usually all related in some way to acute and/or chronic neck pain, back pain, and/or sciatica. Failed back surgery syndrome is generally a continuation of pain, known as chronic pain, and other symptoms affecting the patient.

The medical names for the various back pain expressions are as follows:

1) Back pain, also known as dorsalgia, is a generalized pain experienced, mild to acute, isolated to chronic, in the back and originating as the result of a number of conditions, affecting a variety of structures (e.g., nerves, vertebrae, joints, intervertebral discs, etc). Back pain is said to affect as many as 95% of all adults at some time in their lives.

2) Neck pain, also known as cervicalgia, affects as many as 66% of all adults at some time in their lives. Neck pain may also express as pain in the shoulder, arm, and hand, with associated numbness and tingling into the hands and fingers.

3) Upper back pain, also referred to as thoracic pain or middle back pain, is expressed along the spine from C7 to L1, or from the base of the neck to the base of the thoracic region of the spine. Upper or middle back pain is often but not always isolated to a specific location and has a lower incidence than neck or lower back pain.

4) Lower or low back pain, also known as lumbago, is pain in the lumbar region and may be localized or may radiate laterally. In its worst form, lower back pain will be accompanied by sciatica or leg pain radiating into one or both legs.

5) Sciatic nerve pain or sciatica, also referred to as sciatic neuritis, often associated with lumbar radiculopathy, and commonly referred to as “leg pain,” generally arises as a result of an irritation or compression of one of the five nerve roots that ultimately make up the sciatic nerve. The leg pain may extend into the feet and often ranges from acute to chronic and sensation from tingling to numbness of the legs, feet, and even the toes.

Stress and Trauma Induced Neck Pain, Back Pain, and Sciatica

The pain expressions listed above, neck pain, upper and middle back pain, lower back pain, and sciatica, are complex and often arise as the result of stress placed on the spine and the reaction of the spine and the supporting musculoskeletal system to a specific stressor or constellation of stressors, whether generalized or specific. The spine may also be traumatized as the result of an isolated event, thus resulting in pain to a specific location and ranging once again from acute to chronic, depending on a myriad of factors.

Failed Back Surgery Syndrome: Failure of Expectations

Often, particularly when the reason for the back pain is the result of a number of factors, back surgery may not yield the anticipated result. The failure of the back surgery thus leading to a continuation and, in many instances, increasing levels of neck pain, back pain, and/or sciatica, and failed back surgery syndrome.

Failed Back Surgery Syndrome: Odds of Success and Behaviors

It is estimated that several million individuals see a medical practitioner daily for neck, back, and sciatic nerve pain and that between four hundred thousand and five hundred thousand individuals in the United States alone undergo back surgery in one form or another every year. Of the half a million neck pain, back pain, and/or sciatica sufferers who submit to back surgery every year, between 20% and 40% continue to have significant issues, to include similar or increased levels of pain, overall muscle weakness, excess weight and/or obesity, sleep disorders, depression, numbness and tingling of the extremities, and disability…to list just a few.

Failed Backs and Frustration Across the Board!

There is a general sense of frustration, not only on the part of the surgical patients and their families, but also within the medical community, as failed back surgery syndrome is one of the most perplexing issues facing orthopedic medicine today. The condition is not an isolated syndrome, and in fact to call failed back surgery syndrome a “syndrome” is a misnomer, it is a condition resulting from a constellation of issues and a myriad of factors, many completely unrelated to the surgical procedure itself.

Failed Back Surgery Syndrome: Reinforcing Results and Behavior

Individuals with failed back surgery syndrome, also referred to as post-laminectomy syndrome and failed spine surgery, or simply failed backs, generally have chronic to chronically acute pain affecting the original area of concern. Neck pain, back pain, and sciatica may grow worse with time and the pain may become debilitating and disabling. The resulting pain often leads to guarding, decreased activity, loss of muscle tone and sensation, over all malaise, and often addiction to pain medication.

A Mixed Bag: Why FBBS?

Failed back surgery syndrome may result from an ill-advised surgery, an ill-prepared surgical patient, an improperly executed surgical procedure, an incomplete surgical procedure, an incomplete or inadequate post-operative experience to include under prescribed physical therapy or incomplete physical therapy regimen, and a myriad of other reasons and consequences. Failed back surgery syndrome may also be the result of a number of psycho-social and socio-economic factors, as has been suggested in the medical literature lately as orthopedic medicine attempts to come to grips with this complex and frustrating issue.

The Reality of Failed Back Surgery Syndrome: Get a Second Opinion!

The reality of the matter is, regardless of cause, failed back surgery syndrome is a fact of life for tens of thousands of neck pain, back pain, and sciatica sufferers every year…and there is little hope in sight that this complex issue will be resolved any time soon. Ultimately, before agreeing to any sort of surgical intervention for neck, back or sciatic nerve pain, an individual should get a second opinion and explore every avenue of relief possible first…because the risk of a failed back surgery is real.

More in the next article: How to Deal With Failed back Surgery Syndrome

You can also see several videos dealing with failed back surgery syndrome and neck pain, back pain, and sciatica at my blog covering The 30 Day Neck Pain, Back Pain, and Sciatica!


Professor John P. J. Zajaros, Sr., The Bad Back Guy
Skype: johnzajaros1

PS, If you want to win back your life and live neck pain, back pain, and sciatica free? If you want to find real and lasting pain relief in a program of self-treatment with great individualized support? A free trial that is 100% guaranteed? Just click this link and begin your new life today!

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Dave Bolding Sr August 13, 2012 at 12:31 am

I have been dealing with severe back pain since 2004 after a office chair dug into the lower part of my back. It caused me to have 3 discs with tears in them that have not healed yet, 5 bugling discs from L1 to S1, Moderate Nerve Damage, Spinal Stenosis, Straightening of the Spin now and Degenerative Discs Disease. How do I be able to get some degree of comfort out of life dealing with this constant pain into my feet and throughout my entire back now because of constant muscle spasms daily. It was getting more managable toward the end of 2011 and then a Police Officer tried to pull me out of my Cadillac Truck after profiling me. I injured the back all over again and it is spasming from the top part of my back to the lower part and continued muscle spasms daily with nerve pain into my legs and arms since the incident. I had a recent MRI that has shown significant damage to the back again. I need to know how to get it under control and get regular relief daily because the pain meds and treatments are not lasting long enough?

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