OrthoBuzz occasionally receives posts from guest bloggers. This guest post comes from Impact Science, in response to a recent article in JBJS.
Pain management is an important aspect of postoperative care after posterior spinal fusion for the treatment of adolescent idiopathic scoliosis (AIS). Opioid medications, while highly effective and commonly used for postoperative analgesia, have many well-documented adverse effects. Several recent studies have suggested that dexamethasone, a glucocorticoid, is an effective adjunct for postoperative pain management after many adult orthopaedic procedures, but its use after AIS surgery has not been well studied.
Beginning in 2017, doctors at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta added dexamethasone to their postoperative pain control pathway for adolescent spinal-fusion patients. In the October 21, 2020 issue of The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery, Fletcher et al. report findings from a cohort study that investigated the postoperative outcomes of 113 patients (median age of 14 years) who underwent posterior spinal fusion between 2015 and 2018. The main outcome of interest—opioid consumption while hospitalized—was determined by converting all postoperative opioids given into morphine milligram equivalents (MME).
Because dexamethasone entered their institution’s standardized pathway for this operation in 2017, it was easy for the authors to divide these patients into two groups; 65 of the study patients did not receive postoperative steroids, while 48 patients were managed with 3 doses of steroids postoperatively. Relative to the former group, the latter group showed a 39.6% decrease in total MME used and a 29.5% decrease in weight-based MME. Patients who received postoperative dexamethasone were also more likely to walk at the time of initial physical therapy evaluation. Notably, the authors found no differences between the groups with regard to wound dihescence or 90-day infection rates—2 complications that have been associated with chronic use of perioperative steroids.
In commenting on these findings, Amy L. McIntosh, MD from Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children writes that she was so impressed that she plans “on adding dexamethasone to our institution’s standardized AIS care pathway.”
Impact Science is a team of highly specialized subject-area experts (Life Sciences, Physical Sciences, Medicine & Humanities), who collaborate with authors, societies, libraries, universities, and various other stakeholders for services to enhance research impact. Through research engagement and science communication, Impact Science aims at democratizing science by making research-backed content accessible to the world.
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
JBJS Deputy Editor for Social Media