Worsening pain and quality of life for spine surgery patients during the COVID-19 pandemic: Roles of psychological distress and patient activation

N Am Spine Soc J. 2022 Mar:9:100103. doi: 10.1016/j.xnsj.2022.100103. Epub 2022 Feb 13.


Background: Public health measures during the COVID-19 pandemic have disrupted access to basic resources (income, food, housing, healthcare). The effects may impact patients differently based on socioeconomic status (SES), pre-existing psychological distress, and patient activation (knowledge, skills, and motivation to manage healthcare). We examined changes in access to basic resources and in pain and health-related quality of life (HRQoL) during the pandemic and determined how pre-existing psychological distress and patient activation are associated with exacerbation or mitigation of effects on pain and HRQoL.

Methods: This cross-sectional study assessed 431 patients in a longitudinal-outcomes registry who underwent or scheduled spine surgery at our institution and were surveyed about COVID-19 effects on accessing basic resources. We assessed pain (numeric rating scale) and HRQoL (PROMIS 29-Item Profile). Information on preoperative SES, psychological distress, patient activation, pain, and HRQoL was collected previously. We compared access to basic resources by SES. We compared changes from pre-COVID-19 to COVID-19 assessments of pain and HRQoL and proportions of patients reporting worsened pain and HRQoL stratified by psychological distress. We analyzed associations between patient activation and negative effects on HRQoL using multivariable linear regression. Alpha=0.05.

Results: Respondents reported minor disruptions in accessing basic resources (no difference by SES) but significant worsening of back (p=.027) and leg pain (p=.013) and HRQoL (physical function, fatigue, p<0.001; satisfaction with participation in social roles, p=0.048) during COVID-19. Psychological distress was associated with clinically relevant worsening of back, pain, leg pain, and physical function all, (p<0.05). High patient activation was associated with less impairment of physical function (p=0.03).

Conclusion: Patients with pre-existing psychological distress experienced greater worsening of pain and HRQoL. High patient activation appeared to mitigate worsening of physical function. Providers should screen for psychological distress and patient activation and enhance supports to manage pain and maintain HRQoL in at-risk patients.Level of Evidence: III.

Keywords: Anxiety; COVID-19; Depression; Patient activation; Patient-reported outcomes; Spine surgery.