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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: A Potential Complication Of Traumatic Orthopaedic Injury

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Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – a mental health disorder triggered by an accident, serious illness, or other traumatic experience – may not be something you normally think about following an orthopaedic injury. Although usually associated with soldiers and war veterans, anyone who suffers a serious injury or who comes close to death can suffer PTSD. In fact, research shows that individuals who suffer traumatic orthopaedic injuries in vehicle accidents or when struck by a vehicle can develop symptoms of the disorder. And like any other physical trauma, you may continue to experience emotional problems even after your injuries have healed.

Learning more about PTSD and what symptoms to watch for may give you a better understanding of the emotions you are feeling. This can help you develop more effective coping strategies so that you can adjust to the effects of trauma and move forward with your life.

Symptoms to Watch Out For

While you may not experience symptoms immediately following an auto accident, high fall, or other event in which you were seriously injured, symptoms can develop over time. In some cases, symptoms of PTSD come and go. Your symptoms also may vary in intensity, often becoming worse during stressful times in your life. But no matter when the onset or how frequently they occur, the symptoms you experience can take different forms and may include:

  • Disturbing memories of the event

  • Nightmares about the event that upset you

  • Negative changes in your thinking and mood

  • Irritability or becoming suddenly angry

  • Disinterest in things you once liked to do

  • Memory problems and trouble concentrating

  • Anxiety that causes you to become guarded

  • Feelings of hopelessness

  • Avoidance of reminders of the event

  • Sleep problems

Factors That Put You at Higher Risk

Orthopaedic trauma injuries, such as a neck or back injury, broken bones, severed limb, or other serious injury, that you sustain can interfere with your recovery and delay your return to normal daily routines. Although anyone can suffer post-traumatic stress disorder, you may be more likely to develop the disorder if you already suffer from anxiety or depression. Having a family member who has suffered PTSD or another mental health disorder, such as depression, puts you at higher risk of experiencing emotional problems yourself following a traumatic injury.

Your temperament, or personality type, also can affect your emotional response to a traumatic event and how you handle the related stress. An unexpected traumatic event can cause anxiety and depression, especially if recovery from your injuries is long and painful. A previous bad experience can negatively impact your coping abilities as well.

Need for Mental Health Treatment

Your orthopaedic surgeon, such as at Milford Hospital, may ask you questions about how you are coping with your injuries both physically and emotionally. Be honest when you answer, as what you say can help your doctor determine if you are at risk for developing PTSD.

If you have risk factors or are showing symptoms of the disorder, your surgeon will refer you to a mental health professional for treatment, which may include prescribing you antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications. Your treatment plan also may include behavioral therapy in the form of individual and/or group therapy.