What is failed back or neck syndrome?

Failed back or neck (surgery) syndrome refers to patients who have chronic pain following a surgical procedure on the back or neck. Most people experience satisfactory results from back and neck surgery. However, some patients continue to have troubling symptoms following surgery, even when it was the correct surgery done by highly skilled surgeons.

Patients experience failed back or neck syndrome when:

  • The original problem recurs following surgery
  • Scarring or other complications exacerbate existing conditions
  • Implanted surgical devices have failed
  • Bone and tissue do not heal properly

People with failed back or neck syndrome may experience sharp or dull pain in the neck, back or leg.

How is failed back or neck syndrome diagnosed?

Spine center physicians will conduct a thorough examination and will likely request copies of all prior medical records pertaining to your original surgery, rehabilitation and recovery.

Your physician may also request that you undergo imaging techniques such as X-ray, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or computerized tomography (CT scan).

How is failed back or neck syndrome treated?

Failed back or neck syndrome is a highly variable condition. Treating the syndrome requires patience. Multiple approaches are often necessary to improve symptoms. These approaches may include non-invasive, minimally invasive and support therapies. Occasionally, corrective surgery is necessary.

The spine center team reviews each case to devise a detailed, individualized treatment plan. Their recommendations are based on experience in treating thousands of patients and, sometimes, on input from their colleagues in the UC Davis Department of Orthopaedic Surgery's Lawrence J. Ellison Musculoskeletal Research Center. This world-class orthopaedic and biomechanical research facility is home to an interdisciplinary team of scientists and physicians dedicated to solving problems in biomechanics, tissue regeneration and repair, and skeletal molecular biology.

Teams of UC Davis physicians, surgeons and researchers have been able to bring relief to patients with challenging cases. Ultimately, you and your spine center physician will decide which course of treatment is right for you.