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Ask the Expert: Why am I experiencing pain after spine surgery?

Why do I have pain after spine surgery?

What happens if the spine surgery that was supposed to alleviate your pain actually resulted in more pain? Many patients come to us from other physicians with continued pain after spine surgery and have been told that nothing can be done, or that it's "normal". That’s simply not true! There is typically a specific and correctable reason for pain after surgery. Here at Virginia Spine Institute our seasoned team of spine surgeons specialize in assisting those who have have pain after prior surgery by providing them with successful solutions. 

Interested in learning more about solutions to resolve your pain?

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1. Abnormal motion and instability.

Sometimes back pain is caused by nerve impingement brought on by herniated discs or spinal stenosis. In this situation, decompression surgery is necessary to relieve the pressure and pain. I often see patients that have had this type of surgery without any sort of bone fusion. This might have been a good idea initially, but as more bone is taken away to relieve pressure, the risk of spinal instability become great. The human spine is designed to be both rigid and flexible, but if we remove portions of the bone, that support system is disrupted. A spinal fusion helps to bind the spine together to provide stability and the initial pain felt after surgery will then resolve.

2. Lack of spinal fusion. 
As discussed above, sometimes the spine becomes unstable and a spinal fusion is required to regain that stability. Unfortunately, there are instances in which a spinal fusiondoesn’t take’, meaning the bones didn’t grow together. This could be the result of surgical skill, or it could be the patient didn’t allow his or herself enough time to recover. Thankfully, this type of pain can be fixed by having the appropriate spine surgeon re-do the fusion, and allowing your body time to properly fuse.

3. Poor posture. 
Spinal fusions remove mobility in the fused area, helping to provide support for our body. If a spinal fusion is done improperly, the patient may heal in an improper posture causing long term pain. One example of this is if the body heals in a forward flexed position, also known as flat-back syndrome. Pain for something like this is typically progressive throughout the day as the improper posture starts to wear on the body. In these cases the solution would be to surgically re-align the spine to the corrected position. 

4. Progression of nerve pinching and arthritis.
There’s a lot that goes in to diagnosing back pain and then ultimately designing a tailored treatment plan to alleviate the pain. Some surgeons aren’t overly thorough in their diagnosis and only treat some of the underlying issue. Continued pain after surgery may be the result of persistent pinching of the nerves or arthritis that has progressed to other levels. Receiving a more thorough examination to determine ALL affected levels, and then revising the original surgery to address all underlying issues. This method should alleviate the pain.

5. Painful SPINAL hardware.
If screws and rods are used in the back, they have the potential to cause pain and discomfort long term. The implants (or hardware) are necessary to establish fusion, but if a fusion has occurred, then they no longer serve a purpose.  If they are bothersome some time after surgery was performed, simply removing unnecessary hardware may get you to 100%.

These are just a few circumstances that may result in pain after spine surgery, but those individuals are in the minority thanks to technological advancements and surgical innovation. Don’t fear surgical intervention if it will give you the best chance for a pain-free life, because choosing the right surgeon the first time will mitigate the chance for a failed back surgery.

If you’re still experiencing pain from a prior spine surgery, get to the root of the issue and schedule with one of our spine specialists today!


Schedule today!