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Treating the Patient After Failed Disc Surgery
Spinal surgery cannot only fail to relieve pain; it may in fact cause more pain. Most of the time the surgery itself is causing more complications than it fixes. For example in a discectomy (removal of the disc), the surgeon must spread muscle and cut various ligaments in order to perform the surgery. The surgery itself can potentially lead to ligament laxity and instability of the spine. Further removal of a disc or fusion at one level can lead to disc herniation at the same level or at different levels in the future. It is very common for Prolotherapists to see a patient with “one level fixed,” while another segment of the spine is now unstable, degenerated, and causing pain. Another way surgery causes harm is that in a discectomy, a large portion of the disc remains behind. This is the portion that, if removed, will cause great risk to the patient. The remaining disc can be as much as 40% of the original disc and it can also re-herniate.
Spinal surgery is very radical, it injures and damages a lot of tissue not even associated with the painful area. So what if there is pain following surgery? What are the options?
In new research, doctors noted that failed back surgery patients were showing up at doctor’s offices in “overwhelming numbers.” These patients complained of “persistent back and/or leg pain despite having “completed spinal surgery.” They also noted “As lumbar surgery continues to grow in prevalence, so will the number patients suffering from (failed surgery).”
To fix the patient: ”The most invasive treatment option, short of revision surgery, is spinal cord stimulation. This intervention has a number of studies demonstrating its efficacy and cost-effectiveness in this population. Finally, revision surgery may be used when indicated such as with progressive neurological impairment or with issues regarding previous surgical instrumentation.”1
“Recurrence of back or leg pain after discectomy is a well-recognised problem with an incidence of up to 28%. Once conservative measures have failed, several surgical options are available and have been tried with varying degrees of success….The debate around which procedure is the most effective for these patients remains controversial. Our results show that less invasive posterior lumbar interbody fusion (LI-PLIF) is as effective as any other surgical procedure. However, given that it is less invasive, we feel that it should be considered as the preferred option.”2
Note that the above study cites 28% rate of post-surgical pain. The researchers also note that controversy exists over the best revision surgery for pain after surgery. Their conclusion is that surgeons may as well choose the least invasive surgery since there’s no one revision surgery that is better than the other. As mentioned above, surgery of any kind interferes can cause harm to soft tissue, revision surgery is likely not the best answer.
“Spinal cord stimulation has become a widely used and efficient alternative for the management of refractory chronic pain that is unresponsive to conservative therapies. Technological improvements have been considerable and the current neuromodulation devices are both extremely sophisticated and reliable in obtaining good results for various clinical situations of chronic pain, such as failed back surgery syndrome, complex regional pain syndrome, ischemic and coronary artery disease. This technique is likely to possess a savings in costs compared with alternative therapy strategies despite its high initial cost. Spinal cord stimulation continues to be a valuable tool in the treatment of chronic disabling pain.”3
When surgery fails, when narcotics fail, electrical technology is brought in. The spinal cord stimulator provides a small electric current to the person’s spinal cord so the impulses of pain and injury are lessened. In most patients we see, the spinal cord stimulator does not replace the need for narcotic medication. Additionally, a foreign device is placed in the body, which is nearly never the best option.
Mind over body?
“Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is frequently used for pain conditions. While systematic reviews on MBSR for chronic pain have been conducted, there are no reviews for specific pain conditions. Therefore a systematic review of the effectiveness of MBSR in low back pain was performed….This review found inconclusive evidence of effectiveness of MBSR in improving pain intensity or disability in chronic low back pain patients. However, there is limited evidence that MBSR can improve pain acceptance.”4
In other words, just live with the pain. Mental strength can help, but the reality is that there is an underlying cause of the pain that needs to be addressed. So what are other options for pain after back surgery?
Comprehensive Prolotherapy for failed disc surgery: realistic goals
Comprehensive Prolotherapy is a treatment designed to strengthen weakened soft tissue in the spine and bring stability to the area through injections, not surgery. More stability, less unnatural movement, less pain. We recommend a consultation for those on narcotics and those with spinal cord stimulators. In the case of spinal stimulators, we ask patients to bring in their X-rays showing exactly where the spinal cord stimulator is placed. As long as we can see where the stimulator electrodes are located we can safely do Prolotherapy.
Prolotherapy attacks the problems of a damaged spine instead of suppressing the symptoms. It offers a fix when all else fails. While Prolotherapy is an alternative to disc surgery, it can also help when disc surgery has already occurred yet failed to address the root issue. For more information on Prolotherapy for failed disc surgery, contact us here.
1. Hussain A, Erdek M. Interventional Pain Management for Failed Back Surgery Syndrome. Pain Pract. 2013 Feb 3. doi: 10.1111/papr.12035. [Epub ahead of print]
2. Lakkol S, Bhatia C, Taranu R, Pollock R, Hadgaonkar S, Krishna M. Efficacy of less invasive posterior lumbar interbody fusion as revision surgery for patients with recurrent symptoms after discectomy. J Bone Joint Surg Br. 2011 Nov;93(11):1518-23.
3. Jeon YH. Spinal cord stimulation in pain management: a review. Korean J Pain. 2012 Jul;25(3):143-50. Epub 2012 Jun 28.
4. Cramer H, Haller H, Lauche R, Dobos G. Mindfulness-based stress reduction for low back pain. A systematic review. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2012 Sep 25;12(1):162.