Chronic Pain After Back Surgery? Here’s What You Can Do

According to recent data, approximately 900,000 adults undergo some sort of spinal surgery each year in the United States. Unfortunately, upwards of 20 percent of these patients develop back pain and other complications following their operations.

What Is Post-Laminectomy Syndrome?

Post-laminectomy syndrome, also known as failed back syndrome, is a condition where patients experience chronic pain after spinal surgery. The syndrome can sometimes occur after procedures to correct problems like deformed spinal structures, pinched nerve roots, or unstable spine movement and can affect the cervical, thoracic, and lumbar spine.

A man in a blue shirt points to a painful spot on his back while a doctor examines the area.What Are the Causes and Symptoms of Post-Laminectomy Syndrome?

During a laminectomy, your surgeon removes a section of the vertebra that prevents the spinal cord from pressing against protruding disks. This procedure relieves pressure on the spinal cord and often relieves back pain. However, post-laminectomy syndrome may develop in a small percentage of patients. These patients will continue to experience pain at the site of the operation.

There are a number of reasons why you might experience post-laminectomy syndrome:

  • Joint hypermobility
  • Scar tissue build-up
  • A recurring herniated disc
  • Spinal stenosis (a narrowing of the spinal column)
  • Surgical issues or complications (for example, a fragment of a disc being left behind after your surgery which can irritate the spinal cord or some other unexpected outcome)

In other words, the term ‘failed back syndrome’ can really apply to anything that results in back pain following your surgery.

A female cyclist reaches for her lower back, which is highlighted in red to indicate pain.

Symptoms of post-laminectomy syndrome include back and/or leg pain along with tenderness at the surgical site. Your orthopedic specialist may also notice altered postures and varied positions when walking.

There’s some evidence to suggest that smokers and patients who have had a failed back surgery in the past may be more likely to develop post-laminectomy syndrome.

How Is PLS Diagnosed & What Are the Treatment Options?

Your doctor should be able to make a preliminary diagnosis on the basis of your medical history and a physical examination, though x-rays may also be necessary to reveal the cause of your pain.

More advanced tests, such as a CT or MRI, can reveal whether there is any residual pressure on your spinal nerves following your surgery or if there is any infection around your spine. You may also need blood work to accurately diagnose these problems.

Treatment Options

Like many conditions affecting the back and spine, conservative measures should be explored first. These may include:

  • Painkillers. Doctors may prescribe painkillers as a first-line treatment for post-laminectomy syndrome. Your doctor will monitor you closely to avoid the development of dependence on opioids.
  • Physical therapy. Physical therapy can help patients cope with pain more easily and prevent further disability.

More advanced treatments can be explored if these first-line measures are ineffective. These may include:

A middle-aged white couple wearing backpacks hikes up a hill overlooking a river.

  • Epidural steroid injections
  • Facet joint injections
  • Trigger point injections
  • Radiofrequency ablation
  • Piriformis muscle injections
  • Sympathetic nerve blocks
  • Spinal cord stimulation

Get the Best Care for Your Back Pain

As a leading provider of high-quality, state-of-the-art orthopedic care and minimally invasive spine surgery for patients throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia, the orthopedic surgeons at Town Center Orthopaedics evaluate each unique case with the duty, care, and attention you deserve. Our patient-centered approach means that you will be involved in every step of the process to ultimately achieve the best outcome for you.

Our caring practitioners understand the anxiety and discomfort related to living with a painful condition and aim to bring you relief as quickly as possible. We have a number of treatment options available and will design a pain management plan that fits your individual needs.

For more information about finding relief for your back pain call Town Center Orthopaedics any time at (571) 250-5660, or request an appointment today.

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