How to Prepare Psychologically for Back Surgery

How to Prepare Psychologically for Back Surgery

Although there are many aspects of a psychological preparation program for back surgery, not all patients will need every component. The program can be individually tailored to meet the needs of the patient, and, depending upon the situation, it can be self-guided or done with the help of a health care professional (often a nurse or health psychologist).

Develop a Preparation Program before Back Surgery

A complete program can be helpful throughout the entire back surgery process, from gathering information according to one's personal coping style to getting adequate pain control and helping ensure an appropriate level of assertiveness with medical staff.

Gathering accurate information about back surgery
The amount and quality of information a patient should gather about the back surgery for optimal results is a function of his/her personality style as well as memory for, and understanding of, medical information.

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A longstanding theory is that the more information a person has about the back surgery procedure and recovery, the better he or she will do postoperatively. Although the positive benefits of providing information to surgery patients have been established in many studies, these results are tempered by other findings.

People show differences in how they best manage information about stressful events such as spine surgery. These different personality styles of coping have classified individuals into two groups as applied to surgery preparation:

  • "Monitors" - information-seekers. The more information you are given about the back surgery, the better you will do. If you are not given enough information, then you tend to show increased anxiety due to not feeling in control.
  • "Blunters" - distractors or information-avoiders. In the face of the stress, you may actually do worse if you are given an overwhelming amount of information about the back surgery. For blunters, a great deal of information results in more pre-operative anxiety and can correlate with worse outcomes. Thus, some level of denial and distraction may work best for blunters.

In addition to personality styles, inadequate comprehension and memory of information about spine surgery can lead to patient dissatisfaction and have a negative impact on treatment outcome. In general, patients tend to have a relatively poor understanding of the medical information presented to them and remember little of what they are told.

  • Many surgical consent forms are written at the level of scientific journals, beyond the comprehension of most people. Thus, only about 40% of people read the consent forms carefully.
  • Patients only remember about 30% to 50% of verbal information they are given about their surgery and only slightly more when it is written.

Thus, taking notes or bringing a friend to your doctor's visit can be helpful when preparing for back surgery.

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Dr. Wiliam Deardorff, Psychologist, Beverly Hills, CA, 90212