Question: How to Manage Chronic Back Pain After Surgery?

My husband has had 4 lower back surgeries, 3 herniated discs removed (the last three - L3-4 & 5), a hardware fusion (bone from hip) with pedicle screws, 2 1/2 years ago. The hardware was removed July 2001. He still has chronic back pain, sees a pain management doctor, and has had nerve blocks and epidurals. Nothing helps the pain and the neurosurgeon and the pain management doctor both agree that he has scar tissue, nerve damage and arthritis causing the chronic pain now.

Is there anything left that anyone can do for him? I just believe that with all the research, there is someone 'out there' that can help him. His only relief at the present is pain medications. My husband is only 57 years old. Please let me know if you can help.

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Doctor's Response: Rehabilitation and Exercise

Failed back surgery syndrome is a very difficult problem to treat largely because it is often difficult to find what is generating the pain. The more levels that are fused and the more surgeries that are done, the less likely any further aggressive surgical intervention is going to be successful. There are salvage procedures such as spinal cord stimulators or morphine pain pumps, but these are often a lot to go through with very little benefit.

Rehabilitation in the form of an active exercise program is generally the most reasonable course of action. He should be under the care of a physiatrist (rehab doctor).

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In Spine-health’s Doctor Advice section, physicians respond to frequently asked questions about back pain issues. These responses represent the opinion of one physician, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the broader medical community. The advice presented has not been peer reviewed by Spine-health’s medical advisory board.