I had spine surgery a year ago and am still experiencing pain after my surgery. What can I do about my pain and how should I discuss this with my doctor?
You are not alone. There are patients who experience pain after having had spine surgery. You should know that while you may be having pain now, it does not mean that you will always have pain. Do not ignore your pain. Pain is treatable, and it is highly unlikely that it will just go away on its own. The best way to find a solution for the pain is to identify the cause or source of pain. This can be done with the help of your physician. Be prepared to describe your pain to your physician by letting her know how severe the pain is, how it feels to you, how often it occurs, and what makes your pain better or worse.
The first person you should visit is your physician. She will determine if the level of your spine that was operated on is the main source of your pain and that not another level is involved. Sometimes, pain can occur because scar tissue develops around the nerve roots. Sometimes it is a waiting game after a fusion; while most of the time the bones fuse after one year, some patients take longer. All factors surrounding the surgery and expected outcome should be discussed with the surgeon who did your case.
At our pain clinic, we take care of a number of patients who have persistent pain. Our field of medicine is exciting because of the evolving innovations and options we can offer our patients. We get to know each patient through our exam and diagnostic imaging so we can devise an individualized treatment plan. Our approach to treating pain includes therapy to strengthen the muscles to support the spine, minimally invasive interventions, and medication management.
The majority of interventional procedures we offer do not involve any incisions. In fact, we identify the source of pain and are able to treat it by placing anti-inflammatory and numbing medication at that location. Sometimes we are able to provide radiofrequency ablation, which is a heat lesion to disrupt the nerve’s ability to send pain signals. Another option for patients who have pain after spine surgery is neurostimulation which provides a pleasant vibration and sends pulsed electrical signals that interrupt pain signals to the brain.
While pain after spine surgery is disappointing, it is not hopeless. Do not hesitate to ask your doctor for help or get a referral to see a pain management doctor. As pain management specialists, our goal is to help patients reclaim their lives. We help patients identify why they are having pain and find the best way to treat it.
Mariam M. El-Baghdadi, MD, and Margaret Klatt, MD, are pain management physicians at HFM Pain Clinic.
Mariam El-Baghdadi, MD
Margaret Klatt, MD