The benefits of peripheral nerve blocks for pain control and decreased use of opioids has been well-established for several orthopaedic procedures. In the May 20, 2020 issue of The Journal, a prospective cohort study by Garlich et al. shows that administering such a block earlier rather than later significantly benefits elderly patients awaiting surgery for a hip fracture.
The authors looked at whether the time to block (TTB) with a fascia iliaca nerve block (FIB) in a cohort of 107 patients who sustained a hip fracture affected preoperative opioid consumption and postoperative pain scores. They also examined the relationship between TTB and length of stay and adverse events related to opioids. All FIBs were performed between the time of emergency department arrival and ≥4 hours prior to surgery. Those parameters allowed time for the block to work and also time for the patients in this cohort to request pain medication.
Preoperatively, 72% of all opioid consumption took place prior to block placement. Patients experiencing a faster TTB consumed fewer opioids preoperatively and also on postoperative days 1 and 2, although the day-2 differences were not statistically significant. More specifically, Garlich et al. found a 63.7% reduction in the median preoperative opioid consumption in those with a TTB <8.5 hours from the time of arrival, relative to those whose TTB was ≥8.5 hours.
In addition, patients with a TTB <8.5 hours had significantly lower pain scores on postoperative day 1, and their hospital stays were significantly shorter than those who received blocks ≥8.5 hours after arrival (4.0 days versus 5.5 days). There were no differences in opioid-related adverse events between the TTB groups, although commentator Dr. Patrick Schottel notes that the study was underpowered to definitively discern those between-cohort differences.
Overall, this important study shows that early preoperative FIB reduces perioperative opioid consumption in geriatric patients with hip fractures, in addition to decreasing their pain scores and length of hospital stay. Further investigation is needed to determine the optimal timing for administering preoperative blocks in this vulnerable population.
Matthew R. Schmitz, MD
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