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Signs of an Unsuccessful Discectomy


Often a last resort, spine surgery is beneficial for many patients. This applies to a discectomy, which is performed to remove disc material irritating a nearby nerve. However, some patients do experience a type of failed back surgery syndrome, or FBSS, referring to any spine-related procedure that doesn't fully resolve symptoms. This article discusses some of the signs suggesting a discectomy may have failed.

Pain Continues Beyond Initial Recovery

Still experiencing pain immediately after a discectomy is to be expected, even if the procedure was performed with minimally invasive techniques, as is the case with a microdiscectomy. This is the time when tissues are healing and the affected nerve that was compressed is adjusting. But there’s reason to be concerned if your discomfort isn't gradually easing over time. Talk to your doctor or surgeon if this is still the case 2–3 months or so after your discectomy.

There Aren’t Improvements with Daily Functions

As you heal and recover, you should reach a point where you're able to be more active and go about your daily routine without significant pain. If this doesn't happen, your surgery may not have been successful. For instance, you may still have ongoing issues with certain movements—such as stretching, turning, and reaching—or everyday functions. Pay particular attention to a return of symptoms commonly associated with a herniated or damaged spinal disc. These include
lower back pain, numbness, general muscle weakness, and discomfort felt in nearby areas, such as your thighs or legs.

Physical Therapy Isn't Working Well

Another sign suggesting you may have a failed
discectomy is a lack of meaningful results from physical therapy. This could indicate your therapy routine needs to be adjusted. However, if you're still not seeing improvements in your ability to perform everyday tasks after ongoing physical therapy efforts, see what your doctor has to say.

The Patient Is Experiencing the Same or Similar Symptoms (Much Later)

Signs of a failed discectomy aren't always immediate. You may initially experience some degree of relief and notice your symptoms return later. This can happen several months after your initial surgery. One reason this may occur is because enough disc material wasn't removed. Another possibility is another disc has become herniated, which means the initial discectomy didn't technically fail. For some patients, this could also mean the initial diagnosis made prior to surgery wasn’t correct.

Diagnosis & Treatment

As with anything involving the spine, diagnosing a failed discectomy involves discussing your symptoms and may include image diagnostics. Specialized testing may also be done to find out why you're still experiencing discomfort and to determine the likely source. Treatment for a failed discectomy may involve:

• Posture improvements
• Back braces and similar devices
• Exercises that strengthen spine-supporting muscles
• Therapeutic injections
• Alternative treatments such as acupuncture or chiropractic care
• Another discectomy if nerve pressure related to disc material needs to be relieved
• Surgery to address a secondary source of your symptoms

Even though discectomy surgery is a common and generally quite successful procedure, a hole is frequently left in the outer wall of the disc. In fact, patients with these large holes in their discs are more than twice as likely to reinjure themselves by experiencing what’s known as a reherniation. These reherniations often require additional surgery or even fusions. Fortunately, there’s a new treatment specifically designed to close the large holes that are often left in spinal discs after discectomy surgery. Barricaid is a bone-anchored device proven to reduce reherniations, and 95 percent of Barricaid patients didn’t undergo a reoperation due to reherniation in a 2-year study timeframe. This treatment is done immediately following the discectomy—during the same operation—and doesn’t require any additional incisions or time in the hospital. 

If you have any questions about the Barricaid treatment or how to get access to Barricaid, ask your doctor or contact us at 844-288-7474.

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