Study Finds 20% of Spine Fusion Patients Develop PTSD

Are you considering having a spine fusion surgery? While you're weighing the risks and benefits of the procedure, don’t forget to consider the impact your surgery may have on your overall well-being.

Learn more: Spine Fusion Risks and Complications

Spine fusion surgeries are not to be taken lightly, and you will benefit from thoroughly researching your decision. Watch: Posterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion (PLIF) Video

Study links PTSD with spine fusions

A study published in the journal Spine and conducted by the Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) determined that nearly 1 in 5 people who had a fusion surgery developed at least some level of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) .1

See Spinal Fusion Surgery Recovery: After Discharge (Three to Six Days)

PTSD is typically associated with trauma from war or personal violence, but a growing body of evidence suggests that cardiac surgery and surgery after a trauma (like a car accident)—and now the new fusion surgery study—is associated with PTSD in some patients.

Article continues below

ALIF is a fusion procedure performed by approaching the spine through the abdomen.
ALIF (Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion) Video

Ramifications of PTSD

Following a traumatic event, individuals with PTSD may have recurrent or intrusive memories or dreams of the event. Situations that remind the person of the trauma may invoke intense fear, and some sufferers may have substantial memory lapses.

PTSD can lead to social isolation, loss of interest in usual activities, a restricted range of feelings, suicidal thoughts and tendencies, and a general lower quality of life.

See Spinal Fusion Surgery Recovery: One to Three Months Post-Operation

If you have depression or anxiety, or if you have already experienced a traumatic event in your life, be sure to discuss this with your doctor. Some preventive pre-surgery therapy may significantly improve your emotional outcome.

See Depression Guide

Studies have historically found that the more a patient knows and understands about his or her surgery, the better the outcomes. Some people need more information than others, depending on their personality styles.

For more information, see How to Prepare Psychologically for Back Surgery

Get the support you need

Make sure you have all the support you will need; physically, intellectually, emotionally, and mentally, to give yourself the best chance of avoiding PTSD.

See Arrange for Assistance at Home and Work

The good news for patients suffering from PTSD is that there are therapies and good practices that can help. Eating healthy, exercising, maintaining the support of family and friends, and learning to ask for help when you need it all ease the symptoms of PTSD. Most symptoms disappear within a year.

What's the bottom line? You and your doctor should discuss whether or not you are at high risk for developing PTSD, and if the risk of spine fusion surgery will outweigh the benefit.

Learn more:

Back Surgery Video: How Spinal Fusion Stops Back Pain

Postoperative Care for Spinal Fusion Surgery


  1. Deisseroth, K, Hart RA, "Symptoms of Post-traumatic Stress Following Elective Lumbar Spinal Arthrodesis," Spine,2012 Aug 15;37(18):1628-33, accessed May 9, 2016.
Post written by