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 - Northwestern Memorial Hospital - Chicago

Failed Back Surgery Syndrome

Failed back surgery syndrome (FBSS) is the term most often used to describe the condition of persistent pain following back or spine surgery. The purpose of spine surgery is to accomplish the following:

  • Decompress pinched nerve roots
  • Stabilize a segment of the spine that is moving abnormally
  • Correct spinal deformity

Unfortunately, spine surgery cannot directly cure pain. It is only able to change the anatomy of the spine that is a probable cause of back pain.


There are several reasons people may continue to have pain following back surgery:

  • Failure of the spine to fuse
  • Failure of a spinal implant
  • Recurrent disc herniation
  • Continued nerve compression
  • Nerve damage present before surgery that does not resolve afterwards
  • Pain from another region of the spine
  • Failure to operate on the lesion causing the pain


Patients with FBSS often have new or continued back and leg pain following surgery. This pain may be similar to their previous pain, or it may be of a different quality or in a different location.

Incidence of Failed Back Surgery Syndrome

  • An estimated 10 to 40 percent of people undergoing back surgery are affected.
  • Even with the best surgeon and outcomes, surgery is no more than 95 percent effective.
Last UpdateJune 8, 2011