My Back Surgery Failed: Who’s at Fault?

My Back Surgery Failed: Who’s at Fault?

Most people have back surgery to relieve pain and other symptoms like reduced range of motion. While the majority of surgeries are successful in achieving that goal, there are some times when painful symptoms persist or come back — a problem known as failed back surgery syndrome.

Failed back surgery isn’t very common, but it can happen. At his practice in San Leandro, California, Kenneth I. Light, MD, uses his expertise as a leading orthopedic spine surgeon to treat patients suffering from failed back surgery syndrome, using revision surgery techniques that focus on the underlying cause of failure for optimal, long-term results.

If you’re still experiencing problematic symptoms after your back surgery, you may be wondering who or what is to blame. Here are eight possible reasons for failed back surgery that could be playing a role in your continued symptoms.

1. Technical error during surgery

Technical errors occur when your surgeon misses something or makes a mistake during the original surgery. These can include failing to remove a tiny disc fragment or treating the wrong area of the spine.

2. Hardware failure

This problem happens when a plate, pin, rod, or other component used in your original back surgery fails. Hardware failure typically is associated with fusion surgery, where screws, plates, and other components connect two vertebrae to stabilize an area of your spine.

3. Decompression error

Some spine surgeries focus on relieving nerve or disc compression. In those surgeries, your doctor determines the amount of decompression that’s necessary to relieve pain. Errors in that calculation may result in either too little or too much decompression, both of which can cause continued pain.

4. Infection after surgery

Despite using best practices, surgical infections can still happen. That’s true of all surgeries, not just spine surgeries. The infection itself can cause acute and chronic pain, and it also may cause inflammation and tissue changes that can wind up causing long-term problems.

5. Fusion failure 

Spinal fusion uses techniques to join two or more sections of spine to eliminate instability and unusual movement in an area of your back. The surgeon uses hardware to join the sections of spine, and over time, the bone fuses together. Also called pseudoarthrosis or nonunion, fusion failure happens when the bone doesn’t fuse properly.

6. Lifestyle habits or poor compliance after surgery

Smoking, not following activity restrictions, or gaining a lot of weight after back surgery may cause or contribute to back surgery failure. This is one reason why it’s so important to follow your surgeon’s directions closely after spine surgery.

7. Scar tissue

Scar tissue formation is a natural part of healing. But if your body forms a lot of scar tissue or if scar tissue interferes with spine function after surgery, it can cause continued pain and lead to the need for a revision procedure to remove excess tissue.

8. Recurrent disc herniation or other disease

While spine surgery can help with many types of spine problems, sometimes disc herniation or degenerative diseases can cause continued pain simply because the underlying disease continues to progress. This isn’t strictly a case of failed back surgery, but rather pain associated with an ongoing disease. 

In this instance, Dr. Light recommends the most appropriate treatment for long-term relief — which may or may not be another surgery.

Revision surgery: Your key to feeling better

Dr. Light has extensive experience in state-of-the-art revision spine surgery techniques, tailoring each surgery on a patient-by-patient basis to relieve pain and other symptoms. If you’re experiencing pain, numbness, tingling, or other symptoms after a back surgery, revision surgery could be what you need to feel better. 

To learn more about revision spine surgery, call 415-673-4500 or book an appointment online with Kenneth I. Light, MD, today.

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