High Rates of Post Traumatic Stress Found in Those with Orthopedic Injury

People who suffer a traumatic event that results in an orthopedic injury may be at an increased risk for post-traumatic stress symptoms. According to a recent article, anywhere from 20 to 51 percent of civilians with an orthopedic injury suffer from PTSD. Dr. Daniel Aaron, MD, a clinical instructor in the department of orthopedics at Brown University in Providence, R.I., said, “PTSD occurs with a significant frequency in civilian patients who have sustained an orthopedic trauma, and it can hinder their emotional, physical and functional recovery following orthopedic treatment.”

In most cases, the injury was a result of a fall from an extreme height, motorcycle or automobile accidents, gunshot wounds, or other extremely traumatic type events. “Generally, higher-energy mechanisms are most commonly associated with PTSD, but no specific type of fracture or injury has been identified,” Dr. Aaron said. The symptoms can interfere with a person’s daily activities and may even influence how they perceive the pain they are experiencing. “The development of PTSD adversely affects the ability of the patient to recover and may specifically compromise physical rehabilitation and patient satisfaction following orthopedic treatment,” Dr. Aaron said. “Without effective treatment, PTSD can hinder activities of daily living, such as bathing, eating, paying bills, shopping, laundry and other household chores. Patients with PTSD also may be delayed in returning to work.”

Dr. Aaron believes that it is important to identify those at risk for developing post-traumatic stress early in their orthopedic treatment in order to expedite their recovery. He states that a client must have an early intervention in order to gain the most from their therapy. The first step in helping someone who may be at risk of developing post-traumatic stress is to refer them to a mental health professional who may begin a treatment regimen. This will allow the client to address the psychological impact that the traumatic event has caused and begin the emotional and physical healing process.

© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • jenna w

    jenna w

    May 11th, 2011 at 4:29 AM

    Well of course if I had experienced something traumatic like that in my life that resulted in either me not being able to walk or having to relearn all of that I think that I would go off the deep end! I hope that for many of these patients that therapy is included as a part of their recovery and treatment planning.

  • Andrew.F


    May 11th, 2011 at 7:04 PM

    I’m sure the figures for those who have a physical disability since birth are much lower for PTSD than for those who suffer an orthopedic injury. The curb in movement and the changes that enter one’s daily activities seem like a reasonable reason why people are affected by PTSD.

  • Oliver


    May 12th, 2011 at 4:37 AM

    Think about the many things that must weigh heavily upon you when you experience an injury like these that you know will put you out of commission for a very long time. This has to take such a toll on your physical and mental health. I am not surprised to learn that an injury of this fashion could cause such a great deal of pain for a patient. I do hope that the doctors are keeping the lines of communication open for these patients and are treating them holistically and not just one symptom at at time. Many times one cannot fully heal without taking a look at the big picture.

  • Lori


    May 15th, 2011 at 3:51 PM

    I had a friend who was working on some scaffolding painting a high wall when it snapped underfoot. She fell from a three storey height, smashing up both her legs and breaking her wrist when she hit the ground. It was a miracle she wasn’t killed. She was in hospital for months after that because her ankles were completely shattered and she needed extensive work done to pin what was left of them back together and have metal rods and plates inserted. Today she is not the same girl I knew at all because of that accident. Even though she recovered very well physically she never did bounce back completely mentally. It took away her joie de vivre and left behind a nervousness I’d never seen her exhibit. It was very sad in many ways.

  • Tamsin


    May 15th, 2011 at 4:51 PM

    I think this is partly a primal fear instinct surfacing. If you had a broken bone at any point in your life, you know how much you’re debilitated. It’s extremely stressful too because you have to face, maybe for the first time in your life, a feeling of vulnerability and lack of control. Any animal caught in a trap would feel that same kind of fear.

  • Martha T.

    Martha T.

    May 15th, 2011 at 5:22 PM

    Even with the explanations above I find this a bit of a stretch. How would you get PTSD from having a orthopedic injury? They heal very well nowadays thanks to modern medicine. We don’t live in the Dark Ages.

  • Monique


    May 15th, 2011 at 5:37 PM

    @Martha T. — The PTSD is focused around the event that caused it. If you fell from the roof of your house and snapped your leg on impact, you’d likely not want to go back up on the roof for a while, if ever. I hope that helps clarify this for you.

  • Bernard


    May 15th, 2011 at 5:58 PM

    @Monique: That makes a lot more sense. I was puzzled about that too. I wish they had mentioned that more clearly in the article because I was honestly thinking “Psychological damage from a broken bone? Please…”, but I was looking at it from a wrong angle. Thank you!

  • Dale Holloway

    Dale Holloway

    May 21st, 2011 at 2:48 PM

    @Jenna–You don’t really have to relearn how to walk. You might have to adapt to your limitations but you’re not relearning. Most people get the hang of their new walk very quickly once their leg is stable.

    When you have to do it, you find a way. I believe sincerely we can overcome any hurdle to lead the live we want to, if we want it passionately enough.

  • Charlotte


    May 23rd, 2011 at 10:55 AM

    An injury such as this not only takes away your mobility and your freedom but in many instances could also take away your ability to make a living. I just wonder how much of this that goes on really is post traumatic stress disorder or is about being depressed because you can no longer do the things that you once did.

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