PTSD for Back Surgery Common

Post traumatic stress disorder accompanies spinal lumbar fusion in 19 percent of patients

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) Post-surgery recovery can seem like a daunting ordeal before considering the possibility of a related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). For many patients, PTSD is a reality, and addressing any psychiatric conditions like depression or anxiety may help reduce the chance of occurrence.

A recent study reviewed PTSD symptoms in patients undergoing elective low back fusion surgery. This study found that nearly one-fifth of patients who had lumbar spinal arthrodesis experienced PTSD symptoms.  

In addition, existing psychiatric conditions like depression, anxiety or surgery complications may increase the number of PTSD cases.

"Speak to your doctor before any surgery."

Kate Deisseroth, MD and Robert A Hart, MD of the Oregon Health and Science University evaluated 73 patients undergoing the procedure. The patients were given the PTSD checklist, civilian version, at 6 weeks and 3, 6, 9 and 12 months after their operation.

Information about spinal diagnosis before operation, age, sex, education, employment and medical history was collected. Details regarding the arthrodesis performed, duration of hospital stay, length of intensive care unit stay, whether tubes had to be inserted during the procedure, blood loss and any complications were also recorded.

The largest determining factor of PTSD in this study was whether a psychiatric condition such as depression or anxiety existed before the operation. Experiencing a complication during surgery also predicted PTSD, although not as strongly.

PTSD often involves the reliving of a traumatic experience for at least four continuous weeks and causes distress or impairment. The PTSD symptoms for most patients in this study lasted for at least a year.

Although PTSD is most commonly associated with violence or natural disaster, it has also been linked to invasive medical procedures, such as spinal arthrodesis.

Spinal arthrodesis is a procedure designed to reduce back pain. In the procedure, multiple lumbar vertebrae are fused together, usually using metal screws and rods.

Because the procedure can have complications and a long recovery period, spinal fusion is considered only after other options are considered not viable.

Future research could include investigating which interventions, such as counseling for existing psychiatric conditions, are more likely to prevent PTSD.

The study was published in the journal Spine.

The authors did not report any conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
October 29, 2012
Last Updated:
November 5, 2012