Chronic pain has a way of grinding away at our resolve and for those who have had lingering issues after surgery, pain can drastically affect our mental health. And recent research through the Mayo clinic reveals that spine surgery patients have a higher risk of post–spinal surgery depression.
A few years ago I came across this article written by Korin Miller about actor Stacey London and her struggle with back pain. After her disc replacement surgery in January 2017, London thought the worst of her spinal issues were over however once the numbing effects of pain medication had worn off, her issues with mental health began. Along with fits of crying, London explains she “started to feel…well, weird…Paranoid in a way I’ve never experienced before. I didn’t want to go outside because my anxiety of slipping or someone bumping into me was too much to bear.” London was eventually diagnosed with clinical depression and was able to find professional help to manage this side effect of her surgery.
As it turns out, these signs of clinical depression aren’t uncommon and have a higher incidence among spinal surgery patients. A recently published large-scale retrospective database study (New Onset Depression and Anxiety After Spinal Fusion Surgery: Incidence and Risk Factors,) examined close to 40k patients over 10 years and concluded that onset of depression and anxiety are common amongst patients undergoing spine surgery. Co-author Dr. Stavros G. Memtsoudis, stated “The realization that a significant number of spine surgical patients will develop new onset depression and/or anxiety should spark a discussion on how to better screen patients, follow them after surgery and treat them if necessary. This is important as depression and anxiety are not only associated with significant morbidity but can also jeopardize surgical outcomes. The ability to return to a productive life, the ultimate purpose for undergoing surgery, may be hampered by depression and anxiety, which in my view should be considered a postoperative complication.”
As those of us who have gone through back surgery can attest to, associated nerve pain from associated conditions such as epidural fibrosis can make life miserable, and physical pain can easily trigger mental anguish. As stated above by Dr.Memtsoudis, more post operative follow-ups need to be done to ensure that patients don’t fall victim to mental disorders when recovering from spine surgery.