Chronic Pain after Surgery or Injury

Chronic Pain after Surgery or Injury

The first publication that identified injury and surgery as major risk factors for chronic pain appeared in 1998. This paper reported that around 40% of 5130 chronic pain patients in 10 pain clinics in the United Kingdom had developed their chronic pain problem after surgery or trauma.

…the original publication also suggested trauma as another major precursor of chronic pain. This suggestion has been confirmed by subsequent studies

In principle, every chronic pain has been acute pain at some stage. 

The problem is not limited to major surgery or major trauma, as even minor operations such as herniotomy can have significant consequences with regard to development of chronic pain; a recent editorial on this topic states that chronic pain is the most common and serious long-term problem after repair of an inguinal hernia.

The consequences of chronic postsurgical or post-traumatic pain are significant, not only in terms of suffering and reduced quality of life for the individual patient but also with regard to the subsequent costs to the health care and social support systems of our societies

Furthermore, persistent postsurgical pain is an area that might enable us to better understand the development of chronic pain in general, as it provides an ideal setting for the study of risk and protective factors in a very controlled environment.

While it was initially thought that persistent postsurgical pain is primarily a neuropathic pain, there is now increasing discussion that in some patients, ongoing nociception might be playing a role in this condition

Predictive Factors

Predictive factors for persistent postsurgical pain can be patient specific or surgery specific Furthermore, these factors can be subdivided into preoperative, intraoperative, and postoperative factors (Table 2).

RiskFactors Post-Surg Pain

One relevant factor may be a genetic disposition to increased pain susceptibility. Over recent years, a number of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) have been identified.

Preoperative pain is consistently found to be a predictor for persistent postsurgical pain, which might reflect an independent risk factor, but could well be a manifestation of predisposing factors.

The most relevant postoperative factor seems to be the severity of acute postoperative pain.

Multiple studies have consistently found a strong correlation between the severity of acute postoperative pain and the development of persistent postsurgical pain. These findings are consistent throughout the whole range of surgeries investigated.

It is important to note that the overall (median) severity of pain over the first 7 days after surgery was a better predictor than the maximum pain score, and thus the duration of severe postoperative pain may also be relevant.

Preventive Approaches

…it may well be that simple provision of good analgesia in the postoperative period has a preventive effect.

In an impressive study, patients who had received hip or knee replacement received either standard-of-care analgesia or good background analgesia with access to breakthrough medication for breakthrough pain and preemptive administration of breakthrough medication 1 hour before physiotherapy.

When this treatment was given in the first few weeks after surgery, at any follow-up for the next 24 weeks, significantly fewer patients in the group receiving the superior analgesic regimen had moderate to severe pain on ambulation compared to patients in the control group.

Practical Conclusions

Persistent postsurgical pain is a common but underdiagnosed and underrecognized complication of surgery that has significant consequences for the individual patient

…the risk needs to be considered in decisions on appropriate indications for surgery.

Relevant risk factors for the development of persistent postsurgical pain are:

  • younger age,
  • female gender,
  • chronic pain states,
  • psychosocial factors, and
  • genetic predisposition.

There are also intraoperative risk factors, in particular traumatic surgery with an increased risk of nerve injury.

Severe acute postoperative pain is a major predictor for pain in the postoperative period. Preoperative neurophysiological assessments might identify patients at increased risk.

Approaches that might have a preventive effect include

  • the use of surgical techniques that reduce nerve damage,
  • the use of regional anesthesia and analgesia techniques, and
  • the administration of antihyperalgesic compounds such as gabapentin, pregabalin, and ketamine.

There are insufficient data to suggest ideal treatment protocols, and carefully designed preclinical and clinical research in this area is urgently needed

2 thoughts on “Chronic Pain after Surgery or Injury

  1. Kurt W.G. Matthies

    Trauma can cause central pain when trauma pain is left untreated.

    Read study that found wrist fractures, common to skiing, skating, etc., most common initiator of central pain. (Please don’t ask for source — this old memory is tired tonight).

    Good move Zyp — I sent a link to this study to members of my family on another matter where family member in chronic pain.

    Remember to notice the beauty that surrounds you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Zyp Czyk Post author

      I’m so happy you find some of these “curated pain articles” useful in a practical manner. That’s THE reason I started this blog, hoping others could use it as a resource.

      I have absolutely been noticing the beauty that surrounds me!

      I just returned from a walk through the forest – starting from our back door. Having these trails so available is tremendously important to someone who can’t walk far on asphalt, even less on concrete.

      Your generous praise always lifts my spirits.

      Liked by 1 person


Other thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.