As orthopaedic consultants, we have always talked to our patients about the importance of effective stress management before and after a major operation like joint replacement surgery.
Over the last year we have seen a surge in people’s stress levels due to the pandemic and, although the end of lockdown and the arrival of the vaccine is helping to steer us slowly back to normality, for many people stress levels remain high. All of us have been through an unprecedented experience and we have faced fear and anxiety for our health and that of our loved ones. Many people have also experienced economic challenges and we have all had sustained disruption to our work, family and social lives.
This blog explores the impact of stress on surgical outcomes and offers some simple stress management techniques to help reduce the harmful impacts of stress and anxiety.
What is stress?
As humans we are designed to respond to stressful situations, which essentially is any change in our environment or circumstances. Stress doesn’t have to be negative. We may experience positive stress (eustress) when we feel that we are being pushed slightly outside our comfort zone – for example, if we receive a job promotion. However, stress becomes ‘distress’ when we face continuous challenges without relief. In these circumstances we may start to exhibit certain symptoms such as sleep problems, headaches, digestive problems, elevated blood pressure and chest pain. Some people resort to unhealthy coping mechanisms, including smoking, drinking and drugs, which can further exacerbate the physical problems.
Impact of stress on surgical outcomes
Many studies have shown that a person’s emotional state has an impact on their surgical outcomes, including post-operative pain levels and ability to heal. In the journal Revista Latino-Americana De Enfermagem, researchers looked at 127 patients who’d had orthopaedic and trauma surgery and assessed their levels of pain following surgery. They concluded that patients experiencing high levels of anxiety were more likely to experience moderate to severe post-operative pain.
Effective stress management techniques
Of course, it’s completely normal to be anxious before surgery but there are things that you can do to manage these anxieties, as well as general ways to relieve day-to-day stress levels. Here are some things that we recommend to our patients prior to surgery:
- Find out as much as you can about your surgical procedure – Knowing what to expect can help relieve fear of the unknown. It can be particularly helpful to find out about success rates and how you are likely to feel afterwards as this can help you to see beyond the immediate fears of your experiences in the hospital. If you are undergoing joint replacement, after the procedure you are likely to experience less pain, more mobility and the chance to live a full and active life again.
- Read other patient reviews so you can get a real-life understanding of the experience other patients have received in similar circumstances. You can read almost 400 of our patient reviews collected via independent patient review platform I Want Great Care.
- Don’t resort to harmful ways to manage your stress, such as smoking as this can slow your post-surgical healing and may increase the risk of complications.
- Talk to your orthopaedic surgeon – We understand that joint replacement surgery can feel frightening but it is a routine procedure and we can help to put your mind at rest by explaining what is involved and the expertise of the team who will be caring for you.
- Try proven techniques to manage anxiety and stress – Acupuncture, Yoga and Meditation have all been shown to reduce the harmful impact of stress and relieve your anxiety levels. You may also want to investigate hypnotherapy, massage or counselling which may prove beneficial.
- Support your body to heal – After surgery your body needs time to heal. You can support it to do that by eating a healthy balanced diet, taking regular gentle exercise and getting enough sleep. Talk to your orthopaedic surgeon about taking vitamins and supplements to support your recovery.
- Work towards a healthy body weight – If you are overweight or obese it puts a greater strain on your joints and also increases the risk of post-surgical complications. Losing weight prior to surgery will help to ensure better surgical outcomes and it will also provide a positive focus to help distract you from any fears and anxiety about the forthcoming procedure.
If you are experiencing stress symptoms or are anxious about your surgery, always talk to your orthopaedic consultant rather than suffering in silence. We may be able to reassure you or suggest practical ways to relieve your symptoms. Some patients experience post-surgical depression and this, too, can hinder your recovery. If you experience ongoing low mood after surgery alongside other symptoms such as feeling anxious, irritable or restless, feeling fatigued, sleeping or eating more or less than usual or losing interest in activities you normally enjoy it’s important to speak to your surgical team who can advise you on what to do.
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Please be reassured that despite the ongoing UK Covid-19 pandemic, types of orthopaedic treatments are now again being routinely offered to patients. Having the vaccine does not mean that your treatment won’t go ahead. However, in some circumstances, such as for planned surgery, it is advisable to delay it by a couple of weeks to ensure your body responds in the optimum way to the vaccine. If in doubt, please talk to your orthopaedic consultant or contact us for more guidance to help get your orthopaedic treatment back on track.
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