The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

Foot Surgery Recovery Could Be Hindered by Anxiety, Study Finds

Posted by on Friday, November 2nd, 2018


If you worry you’ll be in pain after surgery, it could be hindering your chances of foot surgery recovery. Modern surgeons take great strides to minimize the amount of pain you experience—through a combination of medication and surgical technique. However, anxiety is much harder for us to control. If you’re extremely anxious about the pain, it may have a way of manifesting—at least that’s what Boston researchers found.

foot surgery recovery
Anxiety before surgery can lead to higher pain and dysfunction, according to new research. Don’t hinder your foot surgery recovery. [Image Source:]

Findings From the Study

The patients with higher levels of preoperative anxiety reported higher levels of pain and poorer function after elective foot and ankle surgery, concluded researchers in their presentation at the American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society Annual Meeting. The retrospective study looked at 88 patients who underwent elective foot and ankle surgeries from May 2016 to December 2016. Patients with surgeries related to diabetes, infection, trauma, or routine hardware removal were excluded. Patients were analyzed according to the PROMIS anxiety score for pain interference, disability, and depression—both before and six months after surgery.

The results indicated:

  • 25 patients had significant emotional distress, with PROMIS scores above 60
  • 63 patients had less emotional distress, with PROMIS scores below 60

The patients with high anxiety were one standard deviation above normal in terms of pain and dysfunction.

How to Cope With Pre-Surgery Anxiety

Now that you understand your anxiety is almost certainly going to cause more pain and poorer initial results, understandably you may be even more anxious! Well, the good news is that researchers believe the right type of counseling prior to surgery can help patients feel more at ease. There are also many ways to lower your anxiety, including:

  • Avoid smoking as a coping mechanism. According to the National Institutes of Health, people turn to smoking with greater frequency in response to anxiety, nervousness, and uncertainty. While it may seem to calm your jangled nerves, nicotine slows the healing process considerably. Instead, consider quitting for at least two months prior to surgery to reduce your risk of adverse complications.
  • Figure out what scares you and research it. Knowledge is power. The more you know about the procedure, the risks, and the outcome, the better you will feel. Focus on the positive results and the benefits of surgery. Make a list of your specific concerns and ask your surgeon about them during your consultation.
  • Tackle pre-surgery tasks sooner rather than later. Make a list of everything you fear you’ll forget—such as what you need to pack the day of your surgery. Pack your bag ahead of time. Prepare a recovery area in your home, stocked with necessary items like phone chargers, bottled water, TV remotes, tissues, books, extra pillows, and healthy snacks. Contact loved ones to find out who is willing to drive you into the hospital and help you in the days following your surgery.
  • Seek counseling. Sometimes it helps just to have someone who can help you make sense of your fears and stresses. A mental health counselor can help you see the brighter side and deflect some of the negative self-talk that could limit your recovery. Writing down your thoughts and feelings can be freeing.
  • Spend some time with animals. Studies show caring for a pet enhances relaxation. Talk calmly to reassure your pet (and yourself) about the experience. Soak up your pet’s unconditional love, and think about the stoic way they endure pain and adversity.
  • Listen to feel-good music. Different people respond to different sounds, but neuroscientists say listening to this one song can reduce anxiety by up to 65 percent.
  • Keep busy. Cooking, cleaning, organizing, or working on a hobby project are all excellent ways to keep yourself distracted.
  • Look into alternative medicine. Yoga, meditation, acupuncture, and massage are all helpful techniques that aid in relaxation. If you’re having trouble sleeping, that could be fueling your anxiety, too; try neuro-linguistic programming hypnosis audiobooks to help you get much-needed rest.
  • Focus on what you control. You can’t control every aspect of your surgery, but you can make yourself as good a candidate for surgery as possible. Focus on eating healthy, balanced meals, getting plenty of rest, drinking at least eight glasses of water a day, and exercising as much as you can.

Don’t Hinder Your Foot Surgery Recovery, See a Podiatrist

Seeking top-of-the-line care is another way to reduce pre-surgery anxiety. Whether you need to get rid of a bunion, ingrown toenail, or degenerated joint, NYC podiatric surgeons at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine can help. Dr. Josef J. Geldwert has performed many successful surgeries over the past 40+ years. Our team members specialize in trauma, bunions, diabetes, tendon injuries, and other sub-specialties. We are on top of the latest advancements used by professional athletes to recover more efficiently. Contact us to schedule your consultation.


If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.