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Spine J. 2003 Sep-Oct;3(5):400-3.

Failed back surgery: etiology and diagnostic evaluation.

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  • 1San Francisco Spine Institute-SpineCare Medical Group, 1850 Sullivan Avenue, Daly City, CA 94014, USA.



This is a synopsis of a symposium presented to the North American Spine Society Annual Meeting in Montreal, Canada, 2002.


To provide the reader with a distillation of the material presented regarding the diagnosis of failed back surgery syndrome (FBSS).


Panel presentation.


The proper treatment of patients with FBSS depends on a precise and accurate diagnosis. With a careful history, examination, imaging studies, psychological evaluation and diagnostic injections, a diagnosis can be reached in over 90% of patients. The most common diagnoses are foraminal stenosis (25% to 29%), painful disc (20% to 22%), pseudarthrosis (14%), neuropathic pain (10%), recurrent disc herniation (7% to 12%), facet joint pain (3%) and sacroiliac joint (SIJ) pain (2%). Psychological factors are always present and may help or hinder. Common psychological diagnoses include depression, anxiety disorder and substance abuse disorder. Diagnostic injections are very useful for facet joint pain, SIJ pain and discogenic pain; they may also be used to confirm a putative neural compression as a cause of pain.


Spine surgeons must be aware of the common causes of FBSS in order to be able to thoroughly evaluate their patients and to minimize the occurrence of this problem.

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