PTSD and orthopaedic trauma: identifying symptoms for effective rehabilitation and treatment


By Stephen M. Pfeiffer, PhD

Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a mental illness prompted by trauma or serious injury. While most often associated with the emotional or physical injury sustained by soldiers during combat, PTSD can arise out of any horrible or severely traumatic incident. Over the years, studies have shown a consistent link between symptoms of

PTSD and orthopaedic trauma

Whether resulting from a violent encounter or a debilitating accident, such injuries may lead to PTSD in disabled patients – and in some cases, symptoms of the disorder may continue even after the physical injury itself is healed.

Life-threatening circumstances manifest themselves in our bodies in a number of ways. For those faced with the threat of serious injury or death, the body’s immediate reactions and sensations – rushing emotions, adrenaline, helplessness, horror and fear – may persist and return long after the event has passed. PTSD often manifests itself, at least in part, as a reliving of sights, sounds and sensations associated with a traumatic circumstance; and this in turn can make it difficult for victims to function as they used to in work or social situations. In addition to these so-called “intrusion” symptoms, avoidance tendencies and “arousal” symptoms (anger, irritability, jumpiness) are a couple of the hallmarks used to diagnose PTSD. But because many people fail to show these signs immediately after undergoing a frightening event and sustaining an injury, it can sometimes be difficult for physicians and employers to correctly diagnose PTSD.

When it comes to cases of orthopaedic injury, researchers have found a high prevalence of PTSD among patients. According to the

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons

, one study revealed that nearly half of the 600 orthopaedic injury patients surveyed also had PTSD. Among those injured in car accidents, 57% eventually showed signs of the disorder – with pedestrian auto accident victims bearing an even higher risk for the disease. In such cases, symptoms may be more likely to develop over time – perhaps even after a victim has begun to recover physically from his injuries or returned to work. The emotional impact of PTSD can be just as crippling – and just as much of an impediment to complete recovery and return to work – as the physical disability caused by severe injury. Therefore, it is critical that orthopaedic surgeons, employers and patients alike take the time to screen for PTSD and seek the opinion of an experienced mental health expert for accurate diagnosis and treatment.

PTSD and RTW: the role of mental health evaluations in orthopaedic workers comp cases

Workers who sustain orthopaedic injuries on the job may or may not experience PTSD; but for those who do – and especially for those whose symptoms arise over time – it can be especially difficult to achieve an effective

rehabilitation and return-to-work

In such cases, both workers and employers may benefit from the expertise of a Qualified Medical Evaluator in order to assess the forensic and psychological evidence and recommend an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan. To learn more about the relationship between PTSD and orthopaedic injury, or to consult with a

Qualified Medical Evaluator

, contact me via email at

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