Revolutionizing Spine Care…Changing Lives

Failed Back Surgery Syndrome: A Real Horror Story


The amazing popularity of Halloween suggests people of all ages love to be frightened. There are “haunted houses” in just about every city, ghoulish costumes worn by the very young children while trick or treating and the annual collection of horror films being released a couple of weeks before Halloween. This year’s crop of scary movies, including Annabelle, Dracula Untold and the very creepy Ouija, are guaranteed to make movie-goers squirm in their seats!

However, for all the popularity of scary activities during the Halloween season, nobody likes real-life horror stories. Patients who have experienced failed back surgery syndrome know what real pain and suffering is and they know this horror story is anything but fun.


Dr. Ralph Rashbaum, who in addition to being one of the three founders of Texas Back Institute, is an international expert on the subject of failed back surgery syndrome. Perhaps better than anyone in the world, he understands the horror stories of this condition and how one might avoid this scary situation.

What is Failed Back Surgery Syndrome?

In order to treat failed back syndrome, it is necessary to understand the clinical definition of this condition. A critical element lies in the immediacy of the problem.

“In order to be classified as failed back surgery syndrome, there has to be a correlation between the surgical event and the failure to improve as a direct result of the surgery,” Dr. Rashbaum noted in a recent interview. “This is an important distinction. Symptomatology that occurs months or years later, as a result of aging or factors unrelated to the surgery cannot be classified as failed back surgery syndrome.”

According to an interview published in the Spine Universe.com, Dr. Rashbaum said,“When patients don’t improve within the first 30 or 60 days following the surgery, that’s when you consider failed back surgery syndrome. I tend to consider failed back surgery syndrome only in cases where patients have surgery and, in the initial period following surgery, it is obvious that the intent of the surgery didn’t meet its goals,” he noted.

Factors Which Cause These Back Surgery Horror Stories


The psychological state of the patient can have an effect on the likelihood of failed back surgery syndrome. In some cases, a surgeon’s skill is not enough to overcome a patient’s psychosocial state.

“It becomes imperative to determine if we are treating the pain in their head,” notes Dr. Rashbaum, “or are we treating a structural component of their spine that’s causing them to perceive pain in their brain.”

Even the legal system can affect this condition. An on-the-job injury or one which is the basis for a worker’s compensation suit, will often result in a failed back surgery syndrome condition, even in the presence of the appropriate diagnosis of the condition, and appropriate execution of the surgery.

“Anything that causes them (patient) to be litigious, seems to lead to a bad result,” he said.

The well-chronicled effect of obesity on back pain can also impact the likelihood of failed back surgery syndrome. Dr. Rashbaum notes that the clinical data does not suggest obese patients are more likely to have conditions such as herniated discs. However, overweight and obese patients are much more deconditioned than healthier patients and this negatively affects their rehabilitation and recovery, and possible return to previous levels of employment or activity.

“When possible, surgeons need to encourage obese patients to diet,” he notes. “A surgeon may have done a masterful job of surgery for the condition of say leg pain, but inherent in this surgery is the potential for having back pain and failed back surgery syndrome once the motion segment has been operated upon, it is always at risk to future failure, especially in the obese population.”

Dr. Rashbaum insists on a holistic approach to back surgery. “There is no question in my mind that we are creating more failed back surgery syndromes when we fail to consider the other lifestyle factors in the patient which could be causing the pain in the first place,” he said. “My concern as a spine surgeon and pain specialist is that I’m seeing more and more unnecessary spine surgery and very little treatment for the lifestyle factors that, were they addressed, might negate the need for surgery.”

A Happy Ending


Getting jolt of theatrical terror from a scary movie is fun. Failed back surgery syndrome is not. If one is living this horror story, what can be done?Dr. Rashbaum and the other specialists at Texas Back Institute treat failed back surgery syndrome on a regular basis.When assessing the situation, the primary goal is to determine where the pain is coming from. This is done with several advanced diagnostic tools and a “never-give-up” attitude.

“We do whatever we have to do to re-investigate the cause of the pain,” Dr. Rashbaum notes. “Because with failed back surgery syndrome, time is of the essence. Pain is a symptom and over time this can turn into a disease called chronic pain syndrome. The more a patient has to live with this chronic pain, the more they suffer psychosocial, financial and physical issues.”

If you are experiencing your own scary story of pain and you believe failed back surgery syndrome might be the cause, click here for appointment to see Dr. Rashbaum or other spine specialist at Texas Back Institute. We will do everything medically possible to re-write your horror story with a happy ending.

Skip to content