Scarring is part of the body’s natural healing process. At the same time, it can be a source of additional pain following spine surgery. This type of scarring is referred to as epidural fibrosis, or spinal nerve scarring. Some spine surgery patients have post-surgery scarring without even knowing it if nerves aren’t irritated by scar tissue, which is what often happens. But if spinal nerve scarring is producing noticeable discomfort, keep reading to learn what can be done about it.
Many spine-related procedures involve decompression surgery, such as a lumbar foraminotomy. Los Angeles patients may have this type of procedure to relieve nerve pressure caused by a spinal disc or other structural issue. For this reason, the tissues affected are often close to nerve roots. As a “wound” is created near a nerve, scar tissue forms in response to this trauma to help the body heal. Spinal nerve scarring typically occurs 6–12 weeks following surgery. If all goes well, this process should take place without you being aware of it. However, you may experience related pain—usually along the nerve’s pathway—if any of the following situations occur:
• Scar tissue binds to a nearby nerve
• Scar tissue surrounds the nerve
• Scar tissue irritates or compresses an adjacent nerve
The treatment recommended for spinal nerve scarring will depend on the extent of your discomfort and how the nerve is affected. Medication may be prescribed to relieve your pain and ease inflammation around the affected nerve. Physical therapy for epidural fibrosis may involve strengthening routines, gentle stretching, or core exercises that target spine-supporting muscles. Surgery is another way to treat spinal nerve scarring. There are two procedures commonly performed on patients with epidural fibrosis:
• Percutaneous adhesiolysis
• Spinal endoscopy
These procedures may be performed to break up the scar tissue. However, one study suggests surgery for this purpose has a 30 to 35 percent success rate. The reason is because there’s no guarantee scar tissue won’t form again and affect a nearby nerve.
Ideally, it’s best to prevent issues with spinal nerve scarring whenever possible rather than having to treat it later. There’s no one-size-fits-all way to prevent epidural fibrosis, but the most common recommendations involve:
• Medication – Pain or anti-inflammatory meds won’t prevent spinal nerve scarring, but they could make it easier for you to continue with your recovery exercises and therapies.
• Physical therapy – Physical therapy for spinal nerve scarring prevention often involves controlled movements that may limit the formation of scar tissue enough to keep it from affecting nearby nerves.
• Stretching – Following your surgery, gentle stretching can break up scar tissue before it has a chance to trap or irritate nerves. Therapeutic stretching can also maintain flexibility around the surgery site.
Some discomfort after spine surgery is to be expected. What’s not normal, however, is for pain following your procedure to suddenly develop, stick around, or get worse. If you’re dealing with anything out of the ordinary after back surgery, talk to your doctor or the Los Angeles spine surgeon who performed your surgery so the source of your pain can be identified and treated.
Whether they need artificial disc replacement or spinal fusion surgery, Los Angeles patients should make sure to take care of their bodies to minimize the chances of scar tissue forming around the spinal nerves. Get in touch with the experts at The Spine Institute for additional tips on achieving a scar-free recovery. If you’d like to schedule an in-person evaluation, please call 310-828-7757 today.