Another Side to Recovery: Mental Health Problems Following Orthopedic Trauma


February 05, 2016 Posted in: Bone and Joint Health , Article

Life-changing trauma happens in a matter of seconds. You're moving through your usual routine, and in the blink of an eye, you experience a serious injury. People often think of recovery from injuries like this as purely physical: healing, rehabilitation, and a slow return to normal activity. But mental health is also involved in the process. Depending on the injury and severity, a trauma victim may face serious mental health challenges. Every recovery is different, but it's important to know how injuries can potentially affect you in ways beyond broken bones and torn ligaments.

Accidents Will Happen

Nonfatal orthopedic trauma injuries, such as accidental falls and collisions, damage bones, tendons, and ligaments. Regardless of whether you receive surgery, physical rehabilitation is based around healing. Recovery from orthopedic injuries can be slow and painful, and some people never return to 100 percent. When someone's normal physical capacity is impaired (e.g., they are unable to walk or use their limbs normally), the independence they're used to is compromised. This contributes to the onset of mental health problems, which compound the process and perpetuate an unhealthy cycle. Extra vigilance is thus necessary to prevent or treat these issues.

Trauma and Mental Health

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), most people "have intense feelings after a traumatic event but quickly recover." Others, however, may experience mental health disorders that sometimes impede -- or even stop -- physical recovery.

The three most common mental issues arising from trauma injuries are:

  1. Depression. A complex disorder, depression's severity differs from one person to the next and can even fluctuate within an individual. Left unchecked, depression robs a person of energy and the willpower to recover. In most cases, it's treatable with counseling or psychotherapy, which is sometimes combined with medication.
  2. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Anybody who has experienced or witnessed an event of extreme danger is subject to an onset of PTSD. Untreated PTSD victims deal with recurring and intense fear. In some ways, PTSD mimics depression, with some overlapping symptoms and a similar treatment plan (a combination of medications and specialized counseling). The NIH reports that, with treatment, PTSD usually resolves in 6 to 8 weeks, but recovery can sometimes take much longer.
  3. Panic disorder. This is an extension of the body's natural reaction to fear. Both during and after a fear-inducing event, it's normal to feel anxiety and stress. If they persist, however, professional intervention is important to mental recovery. Panic disorder also responds well to a blend of psychotherapy and medications.

It's important not to lose sight of the mental side of recovery, so as you focus on physical therapy, healing, and increasing activity levels, keep stock of your mental health as well. Whether it's yourself or a friend, be on guard for the onset of mental health issues that affect your or their ability to cope with physical challenges. Also, remember that these mental health conditions are all treatable -- that knowledge should encourage whoever's affected to seek help and ultimately get back to the best possible shape they can.

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