Spine surgery patients may need to be evaluated for PTSD

Jul 21 2011

Recent research suggests that some individuals who undergo spine surgery after an accident or injury - as opposed to conditions such as degenerative disc disease - may need more than orthopedic care.

This opinion was expressed in a review article that was published in the Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. It stated that up to 51 percent of civilians with an orthopedic injury as a result of a motorcycle accident, gunshot wound, vehicle-pedestrian accident or severe falls, may experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

PTSD is a type of anxiety disorder that changes the body's response to stress. Its exact causes are unknown, but psychological, genetic, physical and social factors are believed to play a role. Some of its symptoms include reliving the traumatic event through flashback episodes, nightmares or recurring thoughts, avoidance and emotional numbing as well as agitation and excitability, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Daniel Aaron, MD, a clinical instructor in the department of orthopaedics at Brown University in Providence, R.I., said that both patients and doctors should know the symptoms as well as risk factors - such as age, gender, education, alcohol use and socioeconomic status - that may predispose individuals toward developing PTSD.

Orthopedic surgeons who ask their patients about their emotions and feelings, and not just their physical state, can recommend prevention strategies, including psychological counseling and medications, that may help prevent or mitigate the effects of the condition.

"PTSD occurs with a significant frequency in civilian patients who have sustained an orthopaedic trauma, and it can hinder their emotional, physical and functional recovery following orthopaedic treatment," he said, adding that "identifying at-risk patients is an important first step in preventing the ill effects of PTSD."

According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, more than 100,000 motorcycle accidents occurred on American roads in 2008, resulting in nearly 96,000 injuries.