Back pain and its treatment takes a tremendous toll on our physical and mental health, and even when treatment goes exactly as planned, depression can develop after surgery. But why is depression an all-to-common side effect after spinal surgery, especially when treatment helps to resolve pain? We take a closer look at the link between spine surgery and depression in today’s blog.
What Causes Depression After Spine Surgery?
A 2017 study by the Mayo Clinic found that patients undergoing spine surgery were more likely to develop depression after their operation than patients treated for other surgical or medical conditions known to be associated with depression. Another study found that upwards of 20 percent of patients developed depression or symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder following their spinal procedure. So there appears to be a clear link between spine surgery and an elevated depression risk, but why does it exist?
Researchers say two different factors drive depression risk following spinal surgery. The first is that many patients have been in pain for an extended duration before they end up getting surgery, and weeks and months of daily pain can have an adverse effect on your psyche. The second is that even though pain may be greatly reduced or eliminated after surgery, the toll back pain took on you also takes some time to heal. Surgery addresses the physical issue, but you need to be cognizant of caring for your mental health after surgery, because it’s dealing with its own issues as a result of long-term back pain.
A final potential source of depression risk that was not analyzed in the studies is the risk of mismatched expectations. If a patient believes that a surgery will solve all their back pain issues, and then they are still dealing with discomfort following the procedure, that can be a big blow to their mental health. That’s why it’s so important for spine surgeons to explain the risks and the expected outcomes to patients so that everyone is on the same page. We’ll do everything we can to help you achieve the best outcome, but that will also come with work on your end, so it’s important you understand what’s being asked of you so that your expectations are appropriate.
Preventing Depression After Spine Surgery
There’s no perfect playbook for preventing depression after spine surgery, but acknowledging that it is a possibility, even after a successful surgery, is a good step towards preventing and treating a mental health issue. It also speaks to the importance of choosing a surgical care team who is aware of the risks of depression and can help monitor for signs and work to treat any issues they come across. Even after a successful surgery that relieves pain, you’re going to still going to have mental anguish from the toll your back pain took on you, so don’t assume you’re in the clear. Take proactive steps and be mindful of the signs of depression.
Active interventions you can take to reduce your depression risk after spine surgery include:
- Participate in your physical therapy program.
- Talk to your surgeon or rehab therapist about any stress or mental anguish you’re experiencing.
- Talk to your surgeon about the expected outcomes to help mange your expectations.
- Engage your mind during your recovery with books or other challenging tasks. (Don’t just watch TV and sleep)
- Connect with friends, family or a support group to share what’s on your mind.
- Consider taking your rehab outside, as the fresh air and sunshine can provide a mental health boost.
- Ask questions of your care team if any aspect of your recovery is causing concerns.
If you follow the above tips and connect with a specialist who is aware of the risk of depression and works to minimize this risk following spine surgery, we’re confident you’ll be able to lower your chances of developing a depressive condition following your spine procedure. For more information or for help with your back issue, reach out to Dr. Chang’s office today.