Preparing Emotionally for Spine Surgery

How you feel emotionally and psychologically determines the results you’re likely to have following spinal surgery. It’s a long-standing assertion backed by recent research out of Finland suggesting patients who go into surgery with some degree of depression are more likely to have a delayed recovery.

Poor Outcomes and Depression

Respondents were asked to self-report their level of functional disability based on the Oswestry Low Back Pain Disability Questionnaire, considered the gold standard for patient assessment. A higher degree of depression correlated with poorer post-surgery outcomes for those patients, emphasizing the importance of considering a patient’s frame of mind prior to surgery.

Encouraging Realistic Expectations

Patients who have some degree of depression heading into surgery may experience new or worsening symptoms if the surgery doesn’t provide the results they anticipated. An Oregon study found that 1 in 5 people experienced post-traumatic stress following fusion surgery, which was based on either failed expectations or irrational fears of re-injury. This risk may be reduced by:

  • Scheduling a separate appointment to ask questions
  • Understanding the risks prior to scheduling surgery
  • Considering other alternatives to surgery, if possible

Dealing with Depression Before Surgery

It’s understandable to have some anxiety when heading into fusion or motion-preserving spine surgery. Lingering depression, however, can contribute to muscle stiffness and other physical health issues that can increase the risk of post-surgery complications. For non-urgent procedures, researchers suggest efforts to manage depression should be made prior to surgery. Steps to minimize depression and anxiety can include:

  • Developing effective stress coping mechanisms
  • Discussing surgery concerns during therapy sessions
  • Setting up a reliable support system

Psychological Stress and Healing

Wound healing is an essential part of the recovery process. With spine surgery, wounds that don’t heal properly can result in infections, complications, and, in the case of spinal fusion surgery, issues with the inserted hardware and the fusion itself.

A survey of orthopedic surgeons and neurosurgeons found that only 10 percent followed psychological screening recommendations. Taking steps to assess patients’ physical and mental health could increase the odds of successful outcomes for the more than 600,000 major spine procedures performed annually in the United States.

If you’d like to discuss your diagnosis and recommended treatment options or are looking for a second opinion, reach out to The Spine Institute Center for Spinal Restoration. Dr. Bae, the center’s medical director, specializes in fusion, non-fusion, and non-surgical spine treatments and can help you determine the right course of action for your particular situation. Call us at (310) 828-7757 and schedule your in-person consultation.