Failed Back Surgery

Was your neck or back surgery unsuccessful? Find out what your pain means—in a few painless clicks.

What is a Failed Back Surgery?

All surgeries come with some inherent risks, and one of those risks is that the surgery will be unsuccessful in alleviating the issues that the surgery was intended to correct. Other individuals will find that the surgery was successful in reversing the original problem, but has brought additional issues to light. And worse yet—a minority of individuals will discover that their neck or back procedure has left them in excruciating, everyday pain.

It was once estimated that 40% of patients who underwent open back surgery had incomplete or unsuccessful results. Luckily, that is no longer the case. Nonetheless, these patients had several similarities in common: their pain emerged more readily in the lower back (or lumbar spine) and resulted from traditional, open-back spinal fusions. Recent advancements in minimally invasive technology, however, have made open-back spinal fusions a thing of the past. Now, the same types of procedures can be performed but with faster healing times, better patient outcomes, less tissue damage, and less time spent in the hospital. In fact, recent studies from the National Institute of Health (NIH) have shown that failed surgery increases relative to the invasiveness of the back surgery; and minimally invasive procedures boast the best results for patients with spine-related pain.


But, what other factors can contribute to a failed back surgery in the first place? Causes of failed back surgery include:

  • Incorrect Diagnosis: It is possible that a surgeon who isn’t experienced with degenerative spinal issues can misdiagnose an issue with the spine. This concern is why it is important to seek the diagnosis of an experienced spine doctor before undergoing any surgery. An accurate diagnosis will prevent poor results from surgery or the need for revision spine surgery after your procedure.
  • Failure in Treatment: A spine surgeon can make the correct diagnosis, yet fail to adequately treat the issue when in surgery. For instance, a nerve root may not be decompressed; a bone fragment or herniated disc tissue might be left behind to press on a nerve or the spinal cord.
  • Spinal Fusion Failure: Traditional spinal fusion relieves nerve compression by removing a damaged disc to alleviate pain and uses bone grafts to strengthen or stabilize the vertebrae. However, if the pain is not correctly diagnosed or healing doesn’t occur properly, the pain may continue.
  • Implant Migration: It is possible for implants to move from their placed location after surgery. The implant can move after being placed and before the patient’s back is completely healed due to movement or stress to the treated area. Occasionally, the implant compresses nerve tissue, causing prolonged or new pain to emerge.
  • Scar Tissue: Scar tissue can form during the healing process after back or neck surgery around a nerve and can generate additional pain. This issue is called epidural fibrosis.
  • Nerve Damage: Inflammation of a nerve as a result of spinal surgery can cause pain. This pain is usually temporary and will resolve itself after the inflammation goes away. However, in some cases, nerve damage leaves a patient in chronic pain after surgery.

Are you concerned that your symptoms could indicate the presence of failed back surgery? To find out how you can achieve the relief that you deserve, contact one of our patient advocates at (212) 506-0240. Our Harvard-trained, world-renowned orthopedic spine surgeon, Dr. Frazier, has been specializing in Revision Spine Surgery for over 20 years!

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What are the Symptoms of Failed Back Surgery?

If you feel as though enough time has passed since your surgery that you shouldn’t be experiencing painful symptoms any longer, you should seek the medical advice of a qualified spine surgeon immediately. While any surgery will take time to heal, the following symptoms are flashing red lights that you should seek professional help:

  • Pain: Although a certain measure of pain after any surgery is normal, you should become concerned if you experience chronic, new, or excruciating pain in any area of your back, neck, or limbs. Keep a watchful eye for any pain, tenderness, or inflammation that develops above or below the area of surgical incision, as this could indicate a bacterial infection of the spine (Osteomyelitis). Failure to recuperate fully from surgery; dull pain or aches in the back, neck, legs, or hips; or sharp pain that radiates down through the extremities should be monitored and reported to your physician.
  • Stiffness: As scar tissue builds or pain intensifies from your failed back surgery, you may notice that your back no longer bends or moves as it should. You may not be able to move your arms and legs (gross motor control) or hands and feet (fine motor control) as easily as you once could, rendering everyday activities like walking or buttoning a shirt extremely difficult.
  • Muscular Spasms: Your arms, legs, back, or neck may cramp without warning, doubling you over in pain until the episode of spasming subsides.
  • Psychological Side Effects: Individuals who undergo a failed back or neck surgery often report feeling depressed or anxious about their condition. Failed back procedures are also correlated with increased consumption of over-the-counter or prescription medications, which can result in longer term addictions.

Do your symptoms sound like the telltale signs of Failed Back Surgery? Need immediate assistance to take back your life? Contact our award-winning team of Revision Spine Surgery experts at New York City Spine to claim a free MRI review and reclaim your life!

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What are the Treatments for Failed Back Surgery?

If you have already undergone a failed back surgery, it is understandable to feel apprehensive about investing your trust in the hands of another provider. You deserve compassionate care and the opportunity to define what relief looks like to you. Conservative therapies (such as pain management or physical therapy) may be successful in alleviating the pain of a failed back surgery. However, other patients will find that these methods are insufficient to provide the full recovery that they desire.

These patients shouldn’t despair. As technology has advanced in the medical field, spine professionals have found that minimally invasive surgery can successfully reverse the ill effects of a failed back procedure. Although the exact procedure that your surgeon recommends will depend upon a number of factors, your surgical treatment will likely include a combination of the following:

  • Revision Spine Surgery: Revision Spine Surgery refers to any procedure that is undertaken to correct a failed neck or back procedure. Revision Spine Surgery encompasses a diverse range of procedures, which your doctor will recommend based upon your specific needs. However, the major classes of these procedures include: Decompressions (relieving the pressure of a pinched nerve), Discectomies (removing & replacing worn-out disc materials), Vertebral Augmentations (mechanical systems that involve the internal reinforcement of spinal vertebrae), and Minimally Invasive Spinal Fusions (stabilizing adjacent vertebrae through the use of bone grafts or metallic instrumentation).
  • Minimally Invasive Spine SurgeryThis category includes any procedure that results in minimal disruption of the muscular or accessory tissues that support the spine. Minimally invasive procedures are the gold standard when it comes to modern spine care: These interventions require less healing time, smaller incisions, less scarring, and lower costs associated with lengthy hospital stays or missed time from work.

Want to hear more about how our outpatient procedures can reverse your neck or back pain? Contact Dr. Frazier at (212) 506-0240 to learn about the latest advancements in minimally invasive care and to receive world-class treatment from a master in minimally invasive technology.

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Dr. Frazier is a Harvard-trained, board certified orthopedic spine surgeon. He’s held an academic appointment at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and New York’s SUNY Downstate. Dr. Frazier is also a respected lecturer, accomplished researcher, published author on spine disorders and treatment, and a consultant for several international spine companies.

After completing his undergraduate education at Brown University, Dr. Frazier attended Harvard Medical School, where he graduated cum laude. He completed a Harvard internship based at the New England Deaconess Hospital in Boston, MA, followed by a Harvard combined residency before becoming chief resident at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Education & Training

  • MD / cum Laude, Boston MA

    Harvard Medical School

  • Residency, Boston MA

    Harvard Combined Orthopedic Residency

  • Chief Residency, Boston MA

    Harvard Mass. General Hospital

  • Spinal Deformity Fellowship, Miami FL

    Doctor's Hospital, Shufflebarger Fellowship

  • Academic Appointments, NY, NY

    Columbia University; SUNY Downstate

  • Consultant, Lecturer

    Nuvasive, Depuy & Stryker International Spine Cos.