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Tuesday, September 20th 2011

Depression and Back Surgery

There are strong psychosocial components to pain syndromes. That isn’t a disparaging statement or a claim that pain is anything but real and each individual patient’s unique experience. But I feel that sometimes recognizing that major psychological component of pain and putting it into the decision algorithm for or against surgery is taboo.

The fact is you probably shouldn’t perform a back fusion surgery on a smoker for pain with instability. And its becoming clear that maybe you shouldn’t perform decompressive surgeries for pain on patients with poorly treated depression.

Strong independent associations were seen between depression burden (the sum of preoperative, 3-month and 6-month BDI scores) and 2-year disability, symptom severity, and poor walking capacity.


Depressive symptoms interfere strongly with the ability of patients to obtain an optimal surgery outcome. Treatment models including the assessment and treatment of depression are encouraged.

This is a tough decision, you’re playing with the chicken and the egg here seeing as it is often a difficult assessment how much a patient’s pain syndrome is contributing to their mental health issues. But the fact is back surgery is major surgery with many, many serious risks and you should want the risk/benefit from the surgery to strongly favor the latter.