Postlaminectomy Syndrome

Dr. Vivek Loomba > Services > Pain conditions > Postlaminectomy Syndrome

Post-Laminectomy Syndrome

Post-laminectomy syndrome, also referred to as failed back surgery syndrome, happens due to persistent or recurrent pain and other symptoms following spinal surgery, particularly laminectomy or decompressive spinal surgery. Laminectomy involves the removal of part or all of the lamina (a bony structure) to alleviate pressure on the spinal cord or nerves.


Post-laminectomy syndrome, also known as failed back surgery syndrome, can have various causes. Here are some common factors that contribute to the development of this condition –

  1. Ongoing nerve compression – One of the primary goals of laminectomy surgery is to alleviate pressure on the spinal nerves. However, in some cases, the compression or irritation of nerves may persist even after surgery. This can occur due to residual disc herniation, scar tissue formation, or inadequate decompression during the initial surgery.
  2. Scar tissue formation – Following spinal surgery, scar tissue can develop around the surgical site. In some instances, this scar tissue may compress or tether the nerves, leading to ongoing pain and symptoms. The formation of scar tissue is a natural part of the healing process, but excessive or abnormal scar tissue can contribute to post-laminectomy syndrome.
  3. Spinal instability – Laminectomy involves the removal of a portion of the lamina, which can result in spinal instability in some cases. This instability can lead to abnormal movement or stress on the spinal structures, causing persistent pain and reduced function.
  4. Recurrent disc herniation – After laminectomy surgery, adjacent discs may become herniated or re-herniated, leading to the recurrence of symptoms. This can occur due to factors such as disc degeneration, poor surgical technique, or increased stress on the remaining discs.
  5. Pre-existing conditions – Individuals who undergo laminectomy surgery may have underlying spinal conditions, such as spinal stenosis, degenerative disc disease, or facet joint arthritis. These conditions can contribute to post-laminectomy syndrome if they were not adequately addressed during surgery or if they continue to progress after the procedure.
  6. Psychological factors – Emotional distress, anxiety, depression, or other psychological factors can influence the perception of pain and the development of chronic pain conditions. These factors can exacerbate or contribute to the symptoms experienced by individuals with post-laminectomy syndrome.

Post-laminectomy syndrome is a complex condition, and often multiple factors can contribute to its development. The specific causes may vary from person to person, and a comprehensive evaluation by a healthcare professional or spine specialist is necessary to determine the underlying factors contributing to the syndrome in each individual case.


Post-laminectomy syndrome, also known as failed back surgery syndrome, can present with a range of symptoms that persist or recur following spinal surgery. The symptoms can vary in intensity and location depending on the individual and underlying factors. Here are some common symptoms associated with the post-laminectomy syndrome –

  1. Persistent or recurring pain – Chronic pain is a hallmark symptom of post-laminectomy syndrome. The pain may be localized to the back or neck, or it may radiate to other areas such as the legs (sciatica) or arms. The pain can be dull, aching, sharp, or shooting in nature.
  2. Radiculopathy -This refers to the presence of pain, numbness, tingling, or weakness that radiates along the path of a compressed or irritated spinal nerve. Radiculopathy may occur in the legs (sciatica) or arms, depending on the location of the affected nerves.
  3. Neuropathic pain – Individuals with post-laminectomy syndrome may experience neuropathic pain, characterized by a burning, tingling, or electric shock-like sensation. This type of pain is often described as shooting or stabbing and may be accompanied by increased sensitivity to touch or temperature changes.
  4. Limited mobility and stiffness – Post-laminectomy syndrome can cause reduced flexibility and stiffness in the back or neck, leading to difficulty with activities that require bending, twisting, or lifting.
  5. Muscle weakness – Weakness in the affected limb(s) may occur due to nerve compression or damage. This weakness can affect the legs or arms, depending on the location of the spinal nerves involved.
  6. Functional impairment – Individuals with post-laminectomy syndrome may experience limitations in daily activities and reduced quality of life due to pain and physical limitations.
  7. Emotional and psychological impact – Living with chronic pain and the limitations imposed by post-laminectomy syndrome can take a toll on mental and emotional well-being. Individuals may experience feelings of frustration, anxiety, depression, or a diminished sense of well-being.

It is necessary to consult with a healthcare professional or spine specialist if you experience persistent or recurring symptoms following spinal surgery. They can evaluate your condition, conduct appropriate diagnostic tests, and recommend a personalized treatment plan to address your specific symptoms and underlying causes of the post-laminectomy syndrome.

Diagnosis and Tests

Diagnosing post-laminectomy syndrome (failed back surgery syndrome) typically involves a combination of clinical evaluation, detailed medical history, and diagnostic tests. These tests are aimed at assessing the underlying causes of persistent or recurrent symptoms after spinal surgery. Here are some common diagnostic tests that may be utilized –

1. Imaging studies – Various imaging techniques can provide valuable information about the spine’s structure and identify potential causes of post-laminectomy syndrome. These may include –

  • X-rays – X-rays can help visualize the bones and alignment of the spine, which can reveal issues like spinal instability, hardware failure, or changes in spinal curvature.
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) – An MRI scan uses powerful magnets and radio waves to produce detailed images of the spine and surrounding structures. It can help identify issues such as disc herniation, nerve compression, scar tissue formation, or spinal stenosis.
  • Computed Tomography (CT) scan – CT scans provide detailed cross-sectional images of the spine and can help visualize bone structures, detect bone spurs, assess the integrity of the hardware, or evaluate for spinal canal narrowing.
  • Myelogram – A myelogram involves injecting a contrast dye into the spinal canal before obtaining X-ray images or CT scans. It helps outline the spinal nerves and spinal cord and may reveal nerve compression or spinal abnormalities.

2. Electromyography (EMG) and Nerve Conduction Studies (NCS) – These tests assess the electrical activity of muscles and the speed of nerve impulses. They can help identify nerve damage, nerve compression, or abnormalities in nerve function associated with the post-laminectomy syndrome.

3. Diagnostic nerve blocks – Nerve blocks involve injecting a local anesthetic or medication near specific nerves to determine if they are the source of pain. If the injection provides temporary pain relief, it can help pinpoint the location of nerve irritation or compression.

4. Discography – Discography involves injecting contrast dye into one or more spinal discs to evaluate their condition. It can help identify painful or degenerated discs that may be contributing to symptoms.

5. Psychological evaluation – A psychological assessment may be conducted to evaluate the impact of emotional factors, such as depression, anxiety, or stress, on pain perception and management.

The specific diagnostic tests used will depend on the individual’s symptoms, medical history, and physical examination findings. A healthcare professional or spine specialist will determine which tests are most appropriate to diagnose the underlying causes of the post-laminectomy syndrome and develop an effective treatment plan.


The treatment of post-laminectomy syndrome (failed back surgery syndrome) aims to alleviate pain, improve function, and enhance the individual’s quality of life. The approach to treatment is typically multi-modal, combining various strategies tailored to the individual’s specific symptoms and underlying causes. Here are some common treatment options for post-laminectomy syndrome –

1. Conservative treatments

  • Physical therapy – Physical therapy can help improve strength, flexibility, and mobility. It may involve exercises, manual therapy, stretching, and other modalities to address muscle imbalances, reduce pain, and restore function.
  • Medications – Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), muscle relaxants, neuropathic pain medications (such as gabapentin or pregabalin), and opioids may be prescribed to manage pain. Medications should be used under the guidance of a healthcare professional and their long-term use should be carefully monitored.
  • Epidural steroid injections – Injections of corticosteroids into the epidural space around the affected nerves can help reduce inflammation and alleviate pain. These injections are typically administered under fluoroscopic or ultrasound guidance.
  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) – TENS therapy involves the use of low-level electrical currents to stimulate the nerves and provide pain relief. It can be applied through electrodes placed on the skin.

2. Interventional procedures

  • Facet joint injections – Facet joint injections involve injecting a local anesthetic and anti-inflammatory medication into the small joints at the back of the spine. This can help alleviate pain originating from these joints.
  • Radiofrequency ablation – This procedure uses heat generated by radiofrequency waves to temporarily disable the nerves causing pain. It can provide longer-lasting pain relief compared to other interventions.
  • Spinal cord stimulation (SCS) – SCS involves implanting a device that delivers mild electrical currents to the spinal cord, modifying pain signals before they reach the brain. It can help manage chronic pain by replacing it with a more tolerable tingling sensation.

3. Revision surgery

  • In some cases, revision surgery may be considered to address the underlying causes of the post-laminectomy syndrome. This could involve removing scar tissue, addressing spinal instability, repairing or removing hardware, or performing additional decompressive procedures.

4. Psychological support

  • Psychological support, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), counseling, or pain management programs, can help individuals cope with chronic pain, improve emotional well-being, and develop effective pain management strategies.

5. Lifestyle modifications

  • Engaging in regular physical activity, maintaining a healthy weight, practicing good posture, and implementing stress management techniques can contribute to overall well-being and potentially reduce pain.

Treatment for post-laminectomy syndrome should be individualized based on the specific needs and underlying causes of each person. It is essential to work closely with healthcare professionals or a multidisciplinary pain management team to determine the most appropriate treatment options and develop a comprehensive plan for managing the condition.


Preventing post-laminectomy syndrome (failed back surgery syndrome) entirely may not always be possible, as it can result from various factors and complications. However, there are some measures that can potentially reduce the risk or severity of post-surgical complications and improve outcomes. Here are some strategies that may help in the prevention of post-laminectomy syndrome –

  1. Thorough pre-operative evaluation – Before undergoing spinal surgery, a comprehensive evaluation by a spine specialist is crucial. This evaluation should include a thorough assessment of the individual’s medical history, physical examination, and appropriate diagnostic tests (such as imaging studies) to accurately diagnose the underlying condition and identify any potential risk factors.
  2. Surgical expertise and technique – Selecting a highly skilled and experienced surgeon is essential. Surgeons who specialize in spinal procedures and have a track record of successful outcomes may reduce the risk of complications and increase the chances of a successful surgery.
  3. Patient education and involvement – Educating patients about the potential risks, benefits, and expected outcomes of surgery is important. Patients should actively participate in decision-making and have a clear understanding of the procedure, expected recovery, and any lifestyle modifications or post-operative precautions they need to follow.
  4. Comprehensive rehabilitation and physical therapy – Following surgery, a structured and individualized rehabilitation program is crucial for recovery. Physical therapy can help improve strength, flexibility, and mobility, as well as promote proper body mechanics and posture. It can also help minimize the risk of developing secondary complications or muscle imbalances.
  5. Pain management and medication optimization – Effective pain management in the post-operative period is vital to prevent the development of chronic pain. A multimodal approach that combines medications, physical therapy, and non-pharmacological interventions should be considered. Close monitoring of pain levels, appropriate medication adjustments, and minimizing the use of long-term opioids can help prevent complications and the development of persistent pain.
  6. Psychological support and coping strategies – Psychological factors can influence pain perception and recovery outcomes. Providing psychological support and resources, such as counseling, stress management techniques, and cognitive-behavioral therapy, can help individuals cope with the challenges of surgery and manage their pain effectively.
  7. Follow-up care and monitoring – Regular follow-up appointments with healthcare professionals are essential to monitor recovery progress, address any concerns or complications promptly, and adjust the treatment plan as needed. Continuity of care and open communication with the medical team can contribute to optimal outcomes.

Every surgical procedure carries some inherent risks, and post-laminectomy syndrome can occur despite preventive measures. However, by implementing these strategies, individuals and healthcare professionals can work together to minimize the risk and optimize the chances of a successful surgical outcome.


The outlook for post-laminectomy syndrome varies depending on factors such as the underlying causes, response to treatment, and individual circumstances. Long-term management, regular follow-up care, and addressing psychological aspects are crucial for optimal outcomes.

If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of post-laminectomy syndrome, it is necessary to consult with healthcare professionals or spine specialists who can provide an accurate diagnosis and develop an individualized treatment plan. By working closely with medical professionals and actively participating in the treatment process, individuals with post-laminectomy syndrome can strive for improved pain management, function, and overall well-being.