top of page

How to Recover From Failed Back Surgery with Acupuncture

Acupuncture for Failed Back Surgery

Living with chronic back pain can be exhausting, especially when surgery, which promised relief, falls short. Failed back surgery syndrome (FBSS) can be debilitating and leaves many patients searching for alternative solutions.

But if you’re among those grappling with persistent back pain post-surgery, there’s hope! This blog will explain the intricacies of FBSS, and explore how Traditional Chinese Medicine and acupuncture for failed back surgery can offer lasting relief from back pain and sciatica without medication or additional surgeries.

Whether you’re seeking to understand your condition better or looking for alternative treatments, this guide is here to help you navigate the journey toward effective and lasting pain relief.

Understanding Failed Back Surgery Syndrome

Failed back surgery syndrome (FBSS) is a condition where a person continues to experience pain in their back or legs after having spinal surgery. The goal of spinal surgery is usually to relieve pain or fix a problem, but sometimes, despite the operation, the pain doesn't go away or even gets worse. This ongoing pain after surgery is what we call FBSS.

FBSS is a relatively common condition that affects a significant number of individuals who undergo spinal surgery. While exact prevalence rates can vary depending on factors such as the specific surgical procedure, study population and definition criteria, failed back surgery syndrome is estimated to occur in 10% to 40% of patients who undergo lumbar spinal surgery. This wide range reflects the complexity of defining and diagnosing FBSS, as it encompasses a spectrum of persistent or recurrent symptoms following surgery.

What Causes Back Surgery To Fail?

There are many factors that can lead to the persistence or recurrence of pain after spinal surgery:

Incomplete Surgery

Sometimes, the initial cause of the back or leg pain isn't fully addressed during surgery. For instance, if a herniated disc was only partially removed or if there were multiple issues contributing to the pain and not all were treated, the patient might still experience pain after the procedure.

Scar Tissue Formation

After surgery, the body naturally forms scar tissue as part of the healing process. However, this scar tissue can sometimes develop around spinal nerves, leading to irritation and pain. This is especially common when scar tissue compresses or entangles nerves in the spine, causing continuous discomfort.

Nerve Damage

During spinal surgery, there is a risk of inadvertently damaging nerves. Even with the best surgical techniques, nerves can sometimes be harmed, leading to chronic pain, numbness, or weakness. This nerve damage can cause ongoing pain despite the surgical intervention.

Recurrent or New Spinal Issues

The problem that was initially treated might come back, or new issues might develop in the spine. For example, a previously repaired herniated disc might herniate again, or a different disc might become problematic. Additionally, other spinal structures, like joints or ligaments, might become sources of pain over time.

Other Structural Sources of Pain

Sometimes, the original pain might be due to multiple factors, not just the spine itself. Muscles, ligaments, and other tissues surrounding the spine can also contribute to pain. If these other sources of pain are not addressed during surgery, the patient might continue to experience discomfort.

Non Structural Sources of Pain

The latest pain science suggests that chronic pain is often not related to structural issues, but to in increase in the brain sensitivity to pain signaling. This hypersensitivity to pain signals is called Central Sensitization is a key aspect of many forms of chronic pain, including low back pain. Central Sensitization cannot be solved with surgery, but requires retraining of the brain and nervous system. If surgery is performed without retraining the nervous system, it may not resolve the pain and could even make the pain worse. Central Sensitization can also develop after surgery, including back surgery, and can contribute to failed back surgery syndrome.

Potential Symptoms of Failed Back Surgery Syndrome (FBSS)

Failed back surgery syndrome (FBSS) can manifest in various ways, and the symptoms can be quite diverse:

Persistent or Recurring Pain

One of the most common symptoms of FBSS is ongoing pain in the back or legs. This pain can be similar to what the person experienced before surgery, or it might be different. It can vary in intensity, from mild to severe, and might feel like a constant ache or sharp, shooting pain.

Leg Pain and Sciatica

Many people with FBSS experience leg pain, which is often referred to as sciatica. This pain can radiate from the lower back down through the buttocks and into one or both legs. It might be accompanied by a burning or tingling sensation, making it uncomfortable to stand, walk, or sit for long periods.

Numbness or Weakness

Nerve damage or irritation can lead to numbness or weakness in the legs or feet. This can make it difficult to perform everyday activities, such as walking or climbing stairs. Some people might notice a loss of sensation or a "pins and needles" feeling in their lower extremities.

Reduced Mobility

Chronic pain and nerve symptoms can significantly impact a person’s ability to move freely. Stiffness, limited range of motion, and difficulty bending or twisting can make it challenging to engage in physical activities or even complete simple tasks around the house.

Emotional and Psychological Effects

Living with chronic pain can take a toll on a person’s emotional and mental well-being. People with FBSS might experience feelings of frustration, anxiety, or depression due to the ongoing discomfort and limitations imposed by their condition. The disappointment of not finding relief after surgery can add to these emotional challenges.

Benefits of Acupuncture for Failed Back Surgery

Acupuncture, an ancient practice originating from Traditional East Asian Medicine, involves inserting fine needles near nerve rich areas of skin to stimulate the body's healing response. For people with failed back surgery syndrome (FBSS), acupuncture offers one of the best avenues for lasting relief from chronic pain and other troublesome symptoms. Here are some of the many potential benefits of acupuncture for failed back surgery:

Pain Relief

One of the primary ways acupuncture helps with FBSS is by stimulating the release of endorphins and other pain killing neurotransmitters. Endorphins are the body's natural painkillers, and their release can help reduce the perception of pain. When acupuncture needles are inserted into the skin, they trigger the nervous system to release these beneficial chemicals, providing long term pain relief.

Reprogramming of the Nervous System

Another potential benefit of acupuncture is its ability to modulate the nervous system. This means it can change how the nervous system processes pain signals. Acupuncture can help reprogram the activity of the nervous system, reducing the hypersensitivity that often accompanies chronic pain conditions like FBSS. This modulation can lead to a lasting decrease in pain intensity and an improvement in overall comfort.

Improvement in Blood Circulation

Acupuncture may also enhance blood flow to specific areas of the body. Improved circulation can help reduce inflammation and promote healing in the affected areas of the spine. By increasing the delivery of oxygen and nutrients while removing waste products more efficiently, acupuncture can support the body's natural healing processes.

Reduction of Muscle Tension

Many people with FBSS experience muscle tension and spasms around the affected area of the spine. Acupuncture can relax these muscles, reducing tension and relieving associated pain. By targeting specific points known to influence muscle tone and tension, acupuncture can help alleviate the discomfort caused by tight or spasming muscles.

Improved Range of Motion

By relaxing muscles, improving blood flow, and reducing pain, acupuncture can contribute to increased flexibility and improved range of motion in the spine, alleviating stiffness and allowing for greater function in daily life.

Stress Reduction and Better Sleep

Acupuncture may has a calming effect on the nervous system, potentially helping to improve sleep and reduce the stress and anxiety associated with chronic pain conditions.

Acupuncture can significantly improve quality of life after a failed back surgery. Best of all, acupuncture is a completely natural, non-invasive therapy, and so these benefits can be achieved without needing to rely on drugs or additional surgery.

Benefits of Herbal Medicine for Failed Back Surgery

Herbal medicine is a key component of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) that involves using botanicals and plant extracts to promote healing and balance within the body. For individuals with failed back surgery syndrome (FBSS), Chinese herbal medicine offers a natural, plant-based approach to managing pain and improving overall well-being. Here are some of the potential benefits of herbal medicine for failed back surgery:

Pain Relief and Anti-Inflammatory Effects

Many herbs used in Chinese Herbal Medicine have natural pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties. For example, herbs like angelica root (Du Huo 独活) and ginger (Gan Jiang 乾姜) are known to reduce inflammation and alleviate pain. By decreasing inflammation around the spine and affected nerves, these herbs can help reduce the chronic pain associated with FBSS.

Enhanced Blood Circulation

Certain herbs in TCM are believed to improve blood circulation, which is crucial for healing. Improved circulation can help deliver oxygen and nutrients to the injured areas of the spine while removing waste products. Herbs like Achyranthes Root (Niu Xi 牛膝) and corydalis (Yan Hu Suo 延胡索) are often used to promote better blood flow in the lower body, which can aid in reducing pain and speeding up the healing process.

Muscle Relaxation

Muscle tension and spasms are common issues for individuals with FBSS. Chinese Herbal Medicine includes herbs that have muscle-relaxing properties. For instance, Peony (Bai Shao 白芍) and licorice (Gan Cao 甘草)) can help relax muscles and reduce spasms, providing relief from the discomfort associated with tight or overactive muscles.

Tissue Repair & Stem Cell Activation

Some herbs used in TCM can help mobilize stem cells, encouraging healing and strengthening of the tissues in the lower back. For example, herbs like eucommia (Du Zhong 杜仲) and dipsacis root (Xu Duan 續斷) are known to target the muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones of the lumbar spine. By nourishing the tissues of the lumbar region, these herbs can help alleviate the chronic pain experienced by those with FBSS.

Stress & Anxiety Relief

Chinese Herbal Medicine takes a holistic approach to health, aiming to restore balance and harmony within the body. This means that, in addition to addressing pain and physical symptoms, TCM can also help improve overall well-being. Herbs such as jujube (Da Zao 大棗) and ginseng (Ren Shen 人参), can help reduce stress and anxiety, which are often exacerbated by chronic pain conditions like FBSS.

Chinese Medicine offers a comprehensive approach to managing FBSS pain and improving quality of life. However, to use these medicines safely, it is essential to consult with a licensed, qualified practitioner to ensure the correct formulation and dosage tailored to individual needs.

Lifestyle Changes That Can Help with Failed Back Surgery Syndrome

Managing pain from failed back surgery at home can involve several natural solutions that can complement medical treatments. Here are some effective strategies:

Heat Therapy

Applying heating pads to the affected area can help reduce inflammation and alleviate pain. Heat therapy promotes blood flow and relaxes muscles.

Gentle Exercise and Stretching

Engaging in gentle exercises and stretches prescribed by a physical therapist can help strengthen muscles around the spine and improve flexibility. Activities like walking, swimming, or yoga can also promote circulation and reduce stiffness without straining the back.

Good Posture and Ergonomics

Maintaining proper posture and using ergonomic furniture and devices can prevent strain on the back. Sit with your feet flat on the floor, knees at a right angle, and use lumbar support if needed. Avoid prolonged sitting or standing in one position.

Mind-Body Techniques

Practicing relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or mindfulness can help reduce stress and manage pain levels. Stress and tension can exacerbate back pain, so learning to relax can be beneficial for overall well-being.

Healthy Lifestyle Choices

Maintaining a healthy weight through proper diet and regular exercise can alleviate pressure on the spine and reduce pain. A balanced diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods and omega-3 fatty acids can also support healing.

Good Sleep Hygiene

Quality sleep is crucial for pain management and healing. Ensure your sleep environment is comfortable and supportive for your back. Use pillows strategically to support the spine and maintain a neutral position while sleeping.

Incorporating these natural solutions into your daily routine can help manage pain from failed back surgery effectively. However, it’s essential to work closely with your healthcare provider to tailor these strategies to your specific needs and ensure they complement any ongoing medical treatments.

Herbal Medicine and Acupuncture for Failed Back Surgery: Restore Your Vitality

Navigating the challenges of FBSS doesn't have to be a journey you face alone. Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine offer promising, natural solutions to stubborn back pain and sciatica, even after a failed surgery. The combination of these time-honored practices can bring the relief you’ve been seeking, helping you reclaim a pain-free life.

Empowered You Acupuncture specializes in treating pain, nerve damage, and other complications of failed back surgery. At our Orange County clinic, we use acupuncture and herbal medicine to reduce pain, restore range of motion, and improve function. We have helped countless people like you overcome FBSS and enjoy a better quality of life.

If you are ready to take the next step in healing, we invite you to connect with us at Empowered You Acupuncture and set up a consultation. Our providers, Erica Yang, MTOM, L.Ac and Dr. Joshua Park, DSOM, L.Ac have extensive experience in acupuncture and herbal medicine and have high success rates in reducing pain and improving function in failed back surgery patients.

To meet with Erica and Dr. Park, please reach out to us at Empowered You Acupuncture to schedule your consultation. During this consultation, Erica and Dr. Park will take the time to understand your concerns, address questions you may have, assess your condition and create a customized treatment plan to suit your unique needs and situation.

Don’t wait another day – relief from failed back surgery is just a phone call away!


bottom of page