Psychological distress associated with severe lower-limb injury

Melissa L. McCarthy, Ellen J. Mackenzie, David Edwin, Michael J. Bosse, Renan C. Castillo, Adam Starr

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

201 Scopus citations


Background: Little is known about the psychological morbidity associated with limb-threatening injuries. It was hypothesized that a substantial proportion of patients who sustain a severe lower-limb injury will report serious psychological distress. Methods: Adult patients who were admitted to one of eight level-I trauma centers for treatment of an injury threatening the lower limb were enrolled during their initial hospitalization. Patients were recontacted at three, six, twelve, and twenty-four months after the injury and asked to complete the Brief Symptom Inventory (BSI), a fifty-three-item, self-reported measure of psychological distress. Patients who screen positive on the BSI are considered likely to have a psychological disorder and should receive a mental health evaluation. Longitudinal regression techniques were used to model positive case status (i.e., likely to have a psychological disorder) as a function of patient, injury, and treatment characteristics. Results: Of the 569 patients enrolled, 545 (96%) completed at least one BSI and 385 (68%) completed all four. Forty-eight percent of the patients screened positive for a likely psychological disorder at three months after the injury, and this percentage remained high (42%) at twenty-four months. Two years after the injury, almost one-fifth of the patients reported severe phobic anxiety and/or depression. While these two subscales reflected the highest prevalence of severe psychological distress, none of the BSI subscales reflected the prevalence expected from a normal sample (i.e., 2% to 3%). Factors associated with a likely psychological disorder included poorer physical function, younger age, non-white race, poverty, a likely drinking problem, neuroticism, a poor sense of self-efficacy, and limited social support. Relatively few patients reported receiving any mental health services following the injury (12% at three months and 22% at twenty-four months). Conclusions: Severe lower-limb injury is associated with considerable psychological distress. More attention to the psychological as well as the physical health of patients who sustain a limb-threatening injury may be needed to ensure an optimal recovery following these devastating injuries. Level of Evidence: Prognostic study, Level I-1 (prospective study). See Instructions to Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1689-1697
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Bone and Joint Surgery - Series A
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2003

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine


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