Is It Normal to Have Back Pain a Year After Surgery?

At Advanced Spine Center, we see a lot of people who are still experiencing pain following surgery.  Their disappointment is almost palpable, after having emerged from surgery hoping for a better quality of life.  Sometimes they’re angry at their surgical team.  But it happens to a lot of people for a lot of reasons.

So, is it normal to have back pain a year after surgery?  Let’s look at some of the reasons pain persists after surgery to answer that question.

Scar Tissue Buildup

The formation of scar tissue is part of the healing process and it has no nerve endings, so it can’t hurt.  The exception to that rule is epidural fibrosis.

This is a type of scar tissue which forms close to nerve roots, placing pressure on them which results in pain.  Patients experiencing pain from epidural fibrosis may feel well for some time after surgery, with the pain returning later.  That’s because scar tissue takes a long time to form.

The solution is a course of post-operative stretching to mitigate the effects of the formation of this type of scar tissue.  A good physical therapist can help you alleviate the pain associated with epidural fibrosis.

Failed Back Surgery Syndrome

Also known as “failed back syndrome”, the name of this type of post-surgical pain is a bit misleading.  Your surgery has not necessarily “failed”.  The failure is in symptoms which have re-presented, or which have not been completely resolved, due to a variety of factors.

One possibility is that the surgery didn’t address all sources of the pain being experienced.  While the dysfunction may have been addressed partially, there may be another that hasn’t been. Rarely, there has been damage to tissue occurring during the surgical procedure itself.

In cases like this, non-invasive pain management is the conservative answer.  Unfortunately, revision may eventually be required, depending on causal factors.

Fusion Failure

Bone tissue which has been surgically corrected takes a long time to completely heal.  Often patients experiencing fusion failure after back surgery have engaged in excessive motion too soon, or have used anti-inflammatories (which inhibit fusion).

It may also be the case that rods or screws used in the procedure have been improperly placed, which may lead to complete failure of the implant involved.

Adjacent-segment disease may also be at fault.  This means that the vertebra above or below the operated section has failed, even though the fusion was successful.

Again, physical therapy can help with the pain, but ultimately, revision surgery to correct fusion failure may be required.

Schedule an Appointment

At Advanced Spine, we offer this blog as a way of communicating with our patients and others seeking information about spine conditions and their treatment.  We do not, however, advise self-diagnosis.  Rather, we encourage you to contact us if you’re experiencing pain which endures over time, following a surgical procedure involving your back.

Your wellbeing is important to us.  If you suspect you’re suffering from any of the post-surgical conditions described above, please contact us.  We can help.