Hey guys, Dr. Lell here. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a common condition that millions of people a year will encounter. Symptoms include mood, behavioral, and physiological changes along with disturbances to your sleep cycles and cognitive functions. Whereas there is no “cure” for PTSD, treatment is found to be very beneficial. Treatment options vary greatly from medications to lifestyle modifications because of how many different aspects of life that the disorder encompasses. We normally associated PTSD with soldiers returning from war but it can experienced following any traumatic event(s) such as rape, abusive relationships, or automobile accidents just to name a few.
Spinal fusion surgery is the mechanical linking of two or more bones to completely immobilize (or remove) the joints between them. Most commonly performed in the lumbar spine, this controversial surgery, is performed for conditions such as scoliosis, degenerative joint disease, disc herniations, and spinal tumors. It accounted for 3% of operating room procedures in 2011 – a 70% growth since 2001.
In 2012, the Oregon Health and Sciences University conducted a study to investigate a link between PTSD and elective spinal fusion surgery (elective meaning that the surgery wasn’t absolutely necessary but that the patient chose that treatment option over other forms of management such as physical medicine, etc.) The researchers did find a link and calculated the odds of developing PTSD after spinal fusion surgery to be 20% (1 in 5).
The researchers looked at 73 consecutive surgeries and checked in with the patients 6 weeks, 3 months, 6 months, 9 months, and 12 months after the operation to see how they were doing. The researchers ran an objective civilian PTSD questionnaire across the patients to see where they fell on the scale. At each point, some portion of those having undergone the surgery were suffering from PTSD. The highest occurrences were at 3 and 9 months. Now obviously there are a lot of variables here. So the researchers went on to see what mattered the most. They found that people with prior psychological conditions had the greatest chance of developing PTSD. They also found the occurrence of a complication, being younger than 50, losing more than a liter of blood, and staying in the hospital for more than 10 days also had significant predictive values.
All surgeries have risks. Some more than others and often times, the benefits will outweigh those risks. But it’s important to be made aware of all the potential risks when electing to have any procedure. The development of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder following spinal fusion surgery is not often talked about but with odds of 20%, it’s worth knowing and making sure you and your surgeon have a plan for follow up care and post surgical support.