About 20% of people who have spinal surgery may feel pain, known as post-laminectomy syndrome (PLS), afterward. In addition to pain, PLS may cause tingling, weakness, numbness, or stiffness in the back, neck, arms, or legs.

Nearly half of people in the United States may experience some type of back pain, and many go through surgery to reduce pressure on the nerves in the spinal cord.

However, surgical failures do occur, and about 20% of people who have spinal surgery develop PLS afterward. This can result in pain or other sensations in the neck, back, arms, or legs.

This article will explain what PLS is, its treatment, and its outlook.

As many as 20% of U.S. individuals who undergo spinal surgery each year experience back or neck — and sometimes arm and leg — pain after their laminectomy, or spinal surgery.

Some people call PLS failed back syndrome or failed back surgery syndrome. It describes any lingering pain of unknown origin after correctional laminectomy.

Continuing or worsening pain after a laminectomy is just one possibility. Read more about what to expect after this type of spinal surgery here.

The main symptom of PLS is a lingering pain, most often in the neck or back. You may also feel pain, stiffness, numbness, tingling, or weakness in the arms or legs.

Many people describe the pain as a dull ache, similar to or even worse than before surgery, along the spinal column.

Others may experience a new sharp, prickling, or stabbing pain along their spine or legs postsurgery.

PLS symptoms may last for a long time, especially without treatment.

While medications or nerve block injections can relieve most of the pain, symptoms such as numbness, tingling, or weakness may take up to 1 year to resolve.

If lingering symptoms persist beyond a year, this may indicate permanent nerve damage, and they’re unlikely to go away on their own.

The exact cause of PLS is still unknown. One theory is that scar tissue develops around the area after surgery, compressing nerve roots and causing pain.

Other causes of PLS may include:

  • epidural fibrosis
  • surgical intervention at the incorrect spinal level
  • recurrent disk herniation
  • degeneration of the spine
  • postsurgical infection
  • incomplete removal of the lamina
  • structural spinal column changes
  • inflammation of the membrane surrounding the spinal cord (the arachnoid)

Sciatica or chronic nerve pain may develop because the spinal nerve root does not fully recover from its prior trauma following surgery.

If the source of the pain is chemical, surgery may not relieve it — only worsen it.

Treatment for PLS focuses on reducing inflammation and managing pain. Some options include:

  • anti-inflammatory medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
  • opioids (under the strict guidance of your physician)
  • physical therapy to correct your posture and strengthen your back muscles
  • regular nerve block injections into the epidural space of the spinal column
  • spinal cord stimulation with electrodes into the epidural space, which interferes with pathways of pain conduction
  • facet joint injections of a local anesthetic along with anti-inflammatory medications to relieve pain and swelling
  • adhesiolysis, which disconnects fibrotic scar tissue either mechanically or chemically
  • radiofrequency neurotomy, which is the deadening of nerves via thermal energy
  • specialized inhibitor, which combats a chemical mediator that may cause spinal pain

Federal law doesn’t consider PLS a disability.

PLS is a syndrome, and it’s classified as pain postsurgery of unknown origin.

While not a disability in and of itself, PLS may lead to a lower quality of life, psychological conditions, and disability, especially if it means you can’t work.

If you’re unable to work, whether or not you qualify for disability benefits will be decided on a case-by-case basis. The Social Security Administration will evaluate your symptoms and likelihood of making a full recovery when determining if you’re eligible for monetary benefits.

PLS is the pain you may have after a laminectomy or another spinal surgery. About 20% of people who have spinal surgery experience pain, tingling, weakness, numbness, or stiffness in the back, neck, arms, or legs.

The exact cause is unknown, but it may happen because of scar tissue developing after surgery. Treatments often involve pain management, physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medications, and nerve block injections.

Many people make a full recovery from PLS, but others may have pain for months, while some develop permanent nerve damage and chronic pain.

If you’ve recently had spinal surgery and are experiencing new or worsening pain, it’s best to consult your healthcare team to discuss symptoms and possible treatments.