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What is Failed Spinal Fusion Surgery? 

Failed spinal fusion surgery, also known as failed fusion syndrome, is a condition in which the fused spine becomes unstable after surgery, resulting in severe pain and restricted movement during normal activities. The spine consists of 33 vertebral bones stacked one on top of the other with cushioning discs lying in between each vertebra.  The vertebral bones and discs play a key role in enabling smooth movement of the spine. They also protect and stabilize the delicate spinal cord. 

Causes of Failed Spinal Fusion Surgery 

Some common causes of failed spinal fusion surgery include: 

  • Scar tissue formation 
  • Abnormal movement 
  • Spinal stenosis 
  • Surgical error
  • Incorrect diagnosis
  • Recurrent disc herniation
  • Implant rejection
  • Obesity

Symptoms of Failed Spinal Fusion Surgery

The most common symptom of failed spinal fusion surgery is severe back pain, often restricting your daily activities. This pain can be a dull ache or a sharp, pricking, or burning sensation that radiates to the extremities.

Diagnosis of Failed Spinal Fusion Surgery

Your doctor will review your medical history and symptoms and perform a physical examination as necessary. The following diagnostic tests may be ordered:

  • X-rays: This study uses electromagnetic beams to produce images of the bones and can detect fractures in the spine.
  • CT scan: This study involves the use of multiple X-rays emitted from a special X-ray machine that moves in an arc around the target area to produce images of any damage in the spine. 
  • MRI Scan: This imaging study uses a large magnetic field and radio waves to detect any damage to soft tissue structures near the spinal cord.
  • Bone scan: This is a nuclear imaging study that helps your doctor detect hidden stress fractures or other bone disorders.

Treatment for Failed Spinal Fusion Surgery

Some of the common treatment options for failed spinal fusion surgery include:

Conservative Methods

  • Medications: Your doctor will recommend over-the-counter medications to reduce inflammation and pain and to help enable movement.
    • Physical Therapy: Your doctor will recommend special exercises to improve posture and reduce stress on the spine.
    • Nerve Blocks: These are spine injections containing anesthetic and steroid medications that are introduced around the spinal nerve root to determine the source of pain.
    • Epidural Spinal Injection: This is an injection of an anti-inflammatory agent into the epidural space of the spine to reduce symptoms.

Non-Conservative Methods

  • Spinal Cord Stimulator: This is an implanted device that sends electrical impulses to certain areas of the spinal cord to interrupt the transmission of pain signals to the brain.
  • Spinal Fusion: This surgical technique combines two or more vertebrae using bone tissue obtained either from an autograft (tissues from your own body) or allograft (tissues from another person) to stabilize the spine.
  • North American Spine Society Logo
  • The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
  • The University Of Virginia