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Persistent Pain after TKA: Can it Be Trained Away?

The anticipation of postoperative pain associated with a large operation such as a total knee arthroplasty (TKA) scares many patients. Some worry to the point of “catastrophizing” pain prior to surgery. As orthopaedic surgeons, we try to assuage our patients’ fears through preoperative education and multimodal pain-management modalities after surgery, but there are still some patients in whom the fear of pain—and the pain itself that inevitably accompanies arthroplasty— negatively affect their outcome. Preparing such patients for surgery and helping them recover afterward despite this high anxiety are big challenges for the orthopaedic care team. Some data suggest that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) might help.

However, a multisite randomized trial by Riddle et al. published in the February 6, 2019 issue of JBJS did not find any differences in pain or function among patients with moderate to high preoperative pain catastrophizing scores who underwent a form of CBT focused on pain coping skills, when their outcomes were compared to those of similar patients in “usual care” or “arthritis education” arms of the study. Each group had similar WOMAC pain scores and pain catastrophizing scores to start, and all patients were found to have significant but very similar decreases in their pain scores at 2, 6, and 12 months postoperatively. Independent assessors determined that the quality of the intervention in the coping-skills and arthritis-education arms was high, suggesting that it was not poor-quality interventions that accounted for the consistent similarities among the 3 groups.

While there are many physiological and psychological factors contributing to an individual’s experience of pain, the results of this study ran surprisingly counter to prior evidence. The authors speculate that differences between the 3 groups may have been masked by the fact that all patients had such a large decrease in pain after the TKA. While that would appear to be  good news, we know that there is a stubbornly large subset of patients (cited in this article as 20%) who undergo a technically and radiographically ”successful” knee arthroplasty only to have continued pain without an obvious cause. (See related OrthoBuzz Editor’s Choice post.)

These findings lead me to believe a statement that probably cannot be proven: there are some patients who will experience function-limiting pain no matter what surgery is performed, no matter which drugs are administered, and no matter what rehabilitative therapy is provided. Learning how to identify those patients and clearly communicating expectations to them pre- and postoperatively might help improve their satisfaction with their procedure.

Chad A. Krueger, MD
JBJS Deputy Editor for Social Media

In Chronic Sciatica, Gabapentin Quells Nerve Pain Better than Pregabalin

This post comes from Fred Nelson, MD, an orthopaedic surgeon in the Department of Orthopedics at Henry Ford Hospital and a clinical associate professor at Wayne State Medical School. Some of Dr. Nelson’s tips go out weekly to more than 3,000 members of the Orthopaedic Research Society (ORS), and all are distributed to more than 30 orthopaedic residency programs. Those not sent to the ORS are periodically reposted in OrthoBuzz with the permission of Dr. Nelson. 

Orthopaedic surgeons may not be at the forefront of dealing with nonoperative nerve pain, but many of our patients who are not candidates for surgery suffer from spine-related nerve pain in their limbs, such as sciatica. Both gabapentin (GBP, Neurontin) and pregabalin (PGB, Lyrica) are used to treat chronic sciatica (CS).

Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is an important pain-related neurotransmitter, although neither GBP nor PGB affect the GABA receptor. Instead, both drugs associate with the ligand of the auxiliary α2δ-1 and α2δ-2 subunits of certain voltage-dependent calcium channels in nerves. Among other uses, Neurontin is prescribed to treat diabetic peripheral neuropathy, and Lyrica is commonly used to treat fibromyalgia.

Investigators reporting in JAMA Neurology sought to help guide practitioners in the initial choice of drug. Eighteen patients with MRIs corroborating single-sided nerve-root sciatic pain of at least 3 months duration were evaluated in an interim analysis as part of a randomized, double-blind, double-dummy crossover trial of PGB vs GBP (8 weeks of exposure to each drug with a 1-week washout in between). The primary outcome was pain intensity measured with a 10-point visual analog scale (VAS) at baseline and 8 weeks. Secondary outcomes included disability as measured with the Oswestry Disability Index and the severity and frequency of adverse events.

Relative to baseline, both drugs showed significant VAS pain reductions and disability-score improvements, However, head-to-head, GBP showed superior VAS pain reduction (mean [SD], GBP: 1.72 [1.17] vs PGB: 0.94 [1.09]; P = 0.035), regardless of the order in which it was given. There were no between-drug differences in disability scores, but adverse events for PGB were more frequent (PGB, 31 [81%] vs GBP, 7 [19%]; P = 0.002), especially when PGB was taken first.

The authors conclude that GBP was superior with fewer and less severe adverse events, and they suggest that gabapentin should be commenced before PGB to permit optimal crossover of medicines.

Reference
Robertson K, Marshman LAG, Plummer D, Downs E. Effect of Gabapentin vs Pregabalin on Pain Intensity in Adults WIth Chronic Sciatica: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Neurol. 2018 Oct 15. doi: 10.1001/jamaneurol.2018.3077. [Epub ahead of print] PMID: 30326006

Are We Overprescribing Opiates to Some Pediatric Patients?

How much opioid analgesia do pediatric patients need after closed reduction and percutaneous pinning of a supracondylar humeral fracture? Not as much as they are being prescribed, suggests a study of 81 kids (mean age of 6 years) by Nelson et al. in the January 16, 2019 issue of The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery.

All patients in the study underwent closed reduction and percutaneous pinning at a single pediatric trauma center. The authors collected opioid utilization data and pain scores (using the Wong-Baker FACES scale) for postoperative days 1 to 7, 10, 14, and 21 via a text-message system, with automated text queries sent to the phones of the parents/guardians of the patients. (Click here for another January 16, 2019 JBJS study that relied on text messaging.)

Not surprisingly, the mean postoperative pain ratings were highest on the morning of postoperative day 1, but even those were only 3.5 out of a possible 10. By postop day 3, the mean pain rating decreased to <2. As you’d expect, postoperative opioid use decreased in parallel to reported pain.

Overall, patients used only 24% of the opioids they were prescribed after surgery. (See related OrthoBuzz post about the discrepancy between opioids prescribed and their actual use by patients.) Considering that pain levels and opioid usage decreased in this patient population to clinically unimportant levels by postoperative day 3, the authors conclude that “opioid prescriptions containing only 7 doses would be sufficient for the majority of [pediatric] patients after closed reduction and percutaneous pinning without compromising analgesia.”

Now that some normative data such as these are available, Nelson et al. “encourage orthopaedic surgeons treating these common [pediatric] injuries to reflect on their opioid-prescribing practices.” They also call for prospective randomized studies into whether non-narcotic analgesia might be as effective as opioid analgesia for these patients.

Education, Guidelines, Willingness: Keys to Changing Opioid-Prescribing Habits

When planning for any type of surgical procedure, the orthopaedist considers many patient and injury-specific variables. With a distal radius fracture, for example, the main goal of the surgery—anatomic reconstruction of the distal radius—remains constant. However, there are numerous other variables (fracture morphology and patient age, just to name 2) that have to be considered to achieve that goal. Yet, when it comes to postoperative pain control, I imagine that most orthopaedic surgeons prescribe the same amount of opioids to almost every patient undergoing an open reduction/internal fixation of a distal radius fracture, regardless of unique patient characteristics. Our medical mantra that “no two patients are the same” seems to fall by the wayside when it comes to postoperative pain control.

This disconnect is what I thought about while reading the article by Stepan et al. in the January 2, 2019 issue of The Journal. The authors’ institution developed and disseminated to all prescribers a 1-hour opioid education program and consensus-based postoperative opioid prescription guidelines. They then compared the number of opioid pills and total oral morphine equivalents prescribed after 9 ambulatory procedures within 3 subspecialty services (sports medicine, hand, and foot and ankle) prior to and after implementation of the guidelines. Stepan et al. found a significant decrease  in the amount of narcotics prescribed after 6 of the 9 surgery types after implementation of the guidelines. Over the course of a year, those decreases would have equaled about 30,000 fewer opioid pills!

Interestingly, there was no significant post-guideline decrease in opioid prescribing after any of the 3 foot-and-ankle procedures. The authors attribute that finding to the slow adoption of the guidelines due to adherence to previously developed pain-management recommendations in this subspecialty.

It has become apparent that we tend to overprescribe opioids postoperatively (see related OrthoBuzz post). This study supports previous data showing that prescription guidelines can be useful in decreasing the amount of postoperative narcotics prescribed to patients, while maintaining adequate pain management and good levels of patient satisfaction.  While further work in developing educational tools and procedure-specific “standards” to help surgeons guide their postoperative prescribing practices would be useful, a surgeon’s mindfulness is equally important. We need first to recognize that orthopaedic surgeons tend to overprescribe postoperative opioids—and second, we must be willing to change our habits. Without both awareness and willingness, the best guidelines and recommendations will be ignored, and an opportunity for us to help curb the opioid crisis in our country will be wasted.

Chad A. Krueger, MD
JBJS Deputy Editor for Social Media

Unexplained Pain After TKA? Duloxetine Might Help

Somewhere between 10% and 15% of patients are unsatisfied with their outcome after primary total knee arthroplasty (TKA). In some cases, dissatisfaction is related to poor range of motion, but more often it is related to residual—or even intensified—pain in the knee several weeks after surgery.

In the January 2, 2019 issue of The Journal, Koh et al. report the results of a prospective randomized trial assessing the effects of duloxetine (Cymbalta) in TKA patients who were screened preoperatively for “central sensitization.” In central sensitization, a hyperexcitable central nervous system becomes hypersensitive to stimuli, noxious and otherwise.

Koh et al. randomized 80 centrally sensitized patients (mean age of 69 years), 40 of whom received a multimodal perioperative pain management protocol plus duloxetine, and 40 of whom received the multimodal protocol without duloxetine. During postoperative weeks 2 through 12, patients taking duloxetine reported better results in terms of pain and functional and emotional outcome measures than those not receiving the drug. Patients in the duloxetine group expressed greater satisfaction with pain control (77% vs 29%) and daily activity (83% vs 52%) at postoperative week 12, compared with those in the control group.

This research represents an important advance in identifying and treating patients who are prone to poor outcomes after TKA. The concept of central sensitization is relatively new to the orthopaedic community, and this pharmacologic intervention is likely to be just the first among many that will help these patients. I think it is probable that other, nonpharmacological interventions will eventually be as or even more successful in helping TKA patients with central sensitization. Koh et al. make a valuable  contribution in this article by educating us as to the neurophysiologic basis of this condition, and their work should pave the way for more important research in this area.

Marc Swiontkowski, MD
JBJS Editor-in-Chief

Self-Reported Marijuana Use Is Associated with Increased Use of Prescription Opioids Following Traumatic Musculoskeletal Injury

Full Article
Cannabinoids are among the psychoactive substances considered as alternatives to opioids for the alleviation of acute pain. We examined whether self-reported marijuana use was associated with decreased use of prescription opioids following traumatic musculoskeletal injury.

Opioid-Tapering Plan May Help Prevent Prolonged Use after Trauma/Surgery

Hydrocodone Has Dark Side as Recreational DrugAddressing the opioid epidemic requires a concerted effort from all sectors of society, but the role of surgeons (orthopaedic and otherwise) cannot be ignored because they determine how best to manage postoperative pain for millions of patients. OrthoBuzz recently commented on two opioid-related studies from the July 18, 2018 issue of JBJS. In the August 1, 2018 edition of The Journal, Mohamadi et al. explain findings from a meta-analysis of 37 studies involving nearly 2 million patients that pinpoint several patient-related risk factors associated with opioid use beyond 2 months following surgery or trauma.

Using careful meta-analysis methods, the authors determined that about 4% of patients continued to use prescription opioids beyond 2 months after surgery or trauma. They also identified the following risk factors as being “among the most important predictors of prolonged opioid use” in these patients:

  • Prior use of opioids or benzodiazepines
  • Depression
  • Long-duration hospital stay
  • History of back pain

Mohamadi et al. also calculated a “number needed to harm” (NNH) from their data. NNH indicates the number of patients with a certain risk factor that is necessary to result in 1 person with prolonged opioid use beyond that of a patient population without that risk factor. They found that for every 3 patients with a history of opioid use, every 23 patients with a history of back pain, every 40 with depression, or every 62 with a history of benzodiazepine use, 1 patient will continue to use prescribed opioids for an extended time period.

Because this meta-analysis was derived from observational studies, the authors caution that “causal inferences could not be drawn for the proposed risk factors.” But they do offer a practical piece of advice gleaned from prior research: Provide patients with an opioid-tapering plan at the time of discharge to significantly reduce the likelihood of prolonged opioid use.

August 2018 Article Exchange with JOSPT

jospt_article_exchange_logo1In 2015, JBJS launched an “article exchange” collaboration with the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy (JOSPT) to support multidisciplinary integration, continuity of care, and excellent patient outcomes in orthopaedics and sports medicine.

During the month of August 2018, JBJS and OrthoBuzz readers will have open access to the JOSPT article titled “Impact of Risk Adjustment on Provider Ranking for Patients With Low Back Pain Receiving Physical Therapy.”

The authors’ findings confirmed their hypothesis that robust risk adjustment is essential for objective comparison of patient-reported outcomes and for accurately reflecting quality of care among patients treated for low back pain.

Preop Opioid Use Associated with Higher Readmission and Revision Rates after TJA

Prescription opioid use is epidemic in the U.S. Recently, an association was demonstrated between preoperative opioid use and increased health-care utilization following abdominal surgeries. #JBJSInfographics #visualabstract #JBJS

Full article: https://bit.ly/2uVhwfl

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Prescribing Opioids: Smallest Dose for Shortest Time

Opioid for OBuzzSome people are tired of reading and hearing about the opioid crisis in America. When this topic comes up at meetings, there are rumblings in the crowd. When it’s brought up during hospital safety briefings, there are not-so-subtle eye-rolls, and occasionally I hear frank assertions of “enough already” when new information on the topic appears in the literature. Yet, as two studies in the July 18, 2018 edition of JBJS highlight, this topic is not going away any time soon. And for good reason. We are only starting to scratch the surface of the serious unintended consequences—beyond the risk of addiction—from overly aggressive prescribing and consumption of narcotics.

The first article, by Zhu et al., directly addresses the topic of overprescribing by doctors in China. The authors evaluated how many opioid pills were given to patients who sustained fractures that were treated nonoperatively. The mean number of opioid pills patients reported consuming (7.2) was less than half the mean number prescribed (14.7). More than 70% of patients did not consume all the opioid pills they were prescribed, and 10% of patients consumed no opioids at all. Zhu et al. conclude that “if opioids are used [in this setting], surgeons should prescribe the smallest dose for the shortest time after considering the injury location and type of fracture or dislocation.”

The second article, by Weick et al., underscores the patient-outcome and societal impact of opioid use prior to total hip and knee arthroplasty. Patients from North America who consumed opioids for 60+ days prior to their joint replacement had a significantly increased risk of revision at both the 1-year and 3-year postoperative follow-ups, compared to similar patients who were opioid-naïve before surgery. Similarly, patients who used opioids for 60+ days prior to undergoing a total hip or knee arthroplasty had a significantly increased risk of 30-day readmission, compared to patients who were opioid-naïve.  All these differences held when the authors made adjustments for patient age, sex, and comorbidities—meaning that tens of thousands of patients each year can expect to have worse outcomes (and add a large cost burden to the health care system) simply by being on opioid medications for two months preoperatively.

These articles address two very different research questions in two very different regions of the world,  but they help expose the chasm in our knowledge surrounding opioid use and misuse. We have been prescribing patients more narcotics than they need while just starting to recognize the importance of minimizing opioid use preoperatively in an effort to maximize surgical outcomes. These two competing impulses emphasize why further opioid-related studies are important.  While continuing to look at the negative effects these medications can have on patients, we have to take a hard look at our contribution to the problem.

Chad A. Krueger, MD
JBJS Deputy Editor for Social Media