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 Table of Contents  
Year : 2015  |  Volume : 29  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 9-14

Pain Management After Spinal Surgery

1 Professor of Anaesthesiology, K.P.C. Medical College, Kolkata, India
2 Associate Professor of Anaesthesiology, Midnapore Medical College, Paschim Midnapur, India
3 Consultant Anaesthesiologist, K.P.C. Medical College, Kolkata, India
4 Fellow of Anaesthesia and Critical Care, Tata Medical Center, Kolkata, West Bengal, India

Date of Web Publication1-Dec-2014

Correspondence Address:
Suman Chaterjee
Department of Anaesthesiology, Midnapore Medical College, Midnapore, West Bengal
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0970-5333.145916

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One of the most important cause of postoperative morbidity is insufficiently treated pain. Patient undergoing spinal surgery often suffer from severe preoperative pain and may require large doses of analgesic drugs including opioids. Longer-lasting, preoperative or chronic pain of greater intensity, patients with 'failed back syndrome' have been identified to cause problems towards control of postoperative pain. Because neurologic examination to detect spinal cord complications requiring immediate intervention are based upon patient cooperation and awareness, different modalities for postoperative pain treatment and a choice of drugs from various classes of analgesics may be effective in these circumstances. Overall, moderate to severe postoperative pain has been correlated with an increased risk for the development of persistent, chronic pain states. These problems may be prevented by successful management of postoperative pain. Acute postoperative pain management is a dynamic process. A detailed preoperative assessment should be done at the beginning and the most appropriate pain management should be provided by utilizing the newer drugs and techniques after estimation of risk-benefit status for each patient.

Keywords: Pain, postoperative, spinal surgery

How to cite this article:
Rudra A, Chaterjee S, Ray S, Ghosh S. Pain Management After Spinal Surgery. Indian J Pain 2015;29:9-14

How to cite this URL:
Rudra A, Chaterjee S, Ray S, Ghosh S. Pain Management After Spinal Surgery. Indian J Pain [serial online] 2015 [cited 2021 Jan 21];29:9-14. Available from: https://www.indianjpain.org/text.asp?2015/29/1/9/145916

  Introduction Top

Postoperative pain is a form of acute pain that starts with surgical trauma with an inflammatory reaction and irritation of an afferent neuronal barrage and ends with tissue healing. It is influenced by cultural, social, and psychological factors of the patient. Moreover, patients often consider "postoperative pain" the most frightening aspect of undergoing surgical procedure. Furthermore, these patients may have been receiving long-term narcotic therapy and may have developed a tolerance to narcotics. Therefore, an individual assessment of pain and provision of analgesic therapy are essential. In addition, before prescribing the analgesics medical condition, physical condition, age, level of fear or anxiety, personal preference, and response to agent should be considered. Otherwise, failure to adequate management of postoperative pain can have combined constellation of several unpleasant sensory, emotional experiences, and associated with autonomic hyper reactivity (increased heart rate, blood pressure, suppression of gastrointestinal mobility), reduced mobility (muscle wasting, joint stiffening), endocrine-metabolic, psychological and behavioral responses (depression, helplessness, anxiety). [1] Inadequate management of postoperative pain i.e. prolongation of pain during postoperative period would lead to sensitization of central and peripheral nervous system. [2]

Following spine surgery, majority of patients report moderate to severe pain, which persists for at least for initial 3-4 days. [3],[4] The pain is proportional to the number of operated vertebrae and the invasiveness of the procedure. [5],[6] There seems to be no significant difference in the severity of pain between cervical, thoracic, and lumbar spine surgeries. [7],[8],[9] Minimally invasive neurosurgical techniques are associated with minimum postoperative pain. [10],[11]

Early ambulation to facilitate surgical outcome, adequate pain relief with patient safety are essential. Analyses of limited data from the available reports of clinical trials demonstrate that many patients still suffer from pain despite focusing on pain management programmes.

  Multimodal Approaches Top

As the postoperative pain is complex problem, it is almost impossible to control pain with unimodal approaches. Rational approach to the treatment of postoperative pain is therefore to combine different treatment modalities, working at different pain mechanisms, to improve analgesia and potentially to reduce side effects. Thus, for past 15 years, multimodal approaches have been applied in clinical practice with local anesthetics, anti-inflammatory drugs, and antihyperalgesics seems rational. So far, the combination of epidural local anesthetics with opioids along with parenteral non-sterioidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), or paracetamol with NSAIDs has been demonstrated to provide adequate postoperative analgesia.

[TAG:2]Treatment Methods [12][/TAG:2]

These include systemic analgesics and regional analgesic techniques. Preferences of the patient should be considered by the clinicians while evaluating individual benefits and risks of each treatment to provide the best postoperative pain regimen. [13],[14],[15]

In this article, we will discuss the different modalities with various classes of pain relievers commonly employed as postoperative analgesic after spine surgery. The range of medications available for treating postoperative pain continues to grow. Although opiate medications are commonly considered the "gold standard" of analgesics, however, the patient needs constant vigilance due to the serious undesirable effects associated with the opiates.

  Parenteral Administrations Top

Selecting the most appropriate analgesic for the patient with pain after spine surgery poses a challenge to the anesthesiologists, given the staggering array of analgesics, each with specific indications, contraindications, pharmacological properties, and adverse effects. Therefore, an appropriate choice will depend on the patient's general physical condition and a complexity associated with the type of spine surgery.


The opioids provide analgesia whether given into the spinal cord or into higher centers. These agents have been used alone or in combination with other agents. The main disadvantages associated with opioids when used to achieve adequate analgesia including pruritus, sedation, respiratory depression, nausea and vomiting, feeling of apathy, orthostatic hypotension particularly if the patient is even slightly dehydrated.

The undesirable effects are observed in all of the opioids in varying degrees. The agonist antagonist combinations were developed in an attempt to limit the potential liabilities of opioids. However, propensity to increase cardiac work and psychotomimetic potential has limited their use.

Minimal dose of opioid should be used as a part of multidrug approach to provide better satisfaction of patient with decreased risk of undesirable effects. [16],[17]

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

These agents show their analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects by inhibiting prostaglandin synthesis. NSAIDs block inflammatory cascade and cyclooxygenase and lead to reduction in pain, fever, platelet aggregation, and inflammatory responses. [18] Sole use of NSAIDs cannot provide adequate pain relief following spine surgery. However, combination of NSAID with opioids gives better results than either one alone. [19],[20] In patients with hemostatic disturbances, COX-2 inhibitors such as celecoxib may aid postoperative pain reduction and decreased opioid requirements. [21] In the postoperative setting, NSAIDs are more effective than paracetamol.

Pain reduction with acetaminophen primarily depends on its central mechanism. Although acetaminophen has antipyretic and analgesic effects, its anti-inflammatory effect is negligible. However, acetaminophen has lesser side effects in comparison with others.

Intravenous paracetamol is the pro-drug of acetaminophen, recently available in our country. Alone, paracetamol cannot control moderate and severe postoperative pain however in combination decrease opioid requirement by 40-50%. [22],[23] Moreover, paracetamol may be a useful alternative as an adjuvant along with opioids in which other NSAIDs may be contraindicated. [24] However, paracetamol alone was not effective in reducing postoperative pain after lumbar disc surgery at 48 hours. [20]

Ketorolac, the other parenteral NSAID available is a non-specific inhibitor of both cyclooxygenase isoenzymes (Cox 1 and Cox 2) used as an adjuvant to opioids to relieve acute postoperative pain after spine surgery due to delayed onset of action. [24],[25] However, early stages of bone healing may be delayed as the agent decrease formation of PGE2. [26]

Newer NSAIDs have been sought in hope of increasing analgesic and anti-inflammatory potency, while minimizing side effects. Unfortunately, most of these agents increase the risk of bleeding by decreasing platelet adhesiveness and increased bleeding times. Because bleeding may be dangerous after spine surgery, non-selective NSAIDs should be used very carefully in the early postoperative period. The NSAIDs alter prostaglandin production, and this directly affects renal function. Respiratory depression generally is not associated with NSAIDs.

Other analgesic drugs

Corticosterioids intravenously could be considered to reduce postoperative pain after spinal surgery. King JS has recommended that a lower dose of dexamethasone 10 mg intravenously during surgery helped to reduce analgesic requirements in patients undergoing lumber discectomy. Larger trials are needed to confirm or refute these findings. [27]

Ketamine, is an N-methyl -d- aspartate (NMDA) antagonist. NMDA antagonists block the glutamine receptors in the dorsal root; this plays an important role in sensitization process [28] after noxious stimuli. In subanesthetic dose, ketamine may lead to selective non-competitive NMDA blockage. Therefore, ketamine with low dose could effectively relieve pain following surgery [29] and decrease consumption of opioid in opioid-dependents. [30],[31] Adverse effects of this drug include increased salivation, sedation, nausea, dysphoria, and even hallucinations.

Gabepentin was found to be effective in decreasing 24-hour cumulative opioid consumption with acceptable adverse effects according to several trials. [32],[33],[34]

  Intravenous Patient-Controlled Analgesia (PCA) Top

Inadequate pain relief is frequently experienced by the patient due to delay in administration of the analgesic agent, especially analgesic injection when needed conventionally, based on the demand of the patient.

Great changes occur in plasma drug concentration profile develops following opioid administration vial intramuscular or infusion route for postoperative pain relief. This viability leads to inadequate effectiveness of intramuscular administration of opioids for postoperative pain relief. On the other hand, nurses' acting conservatively due to abstaining from side effects that may develop during narcotic use have led to seeking safer and more effective methods for postoperative analgesia. Patient-controlled analgesia has been used both, as a means of treating pain and a means of quantifying analgesic deficit. Therefore, PCA allows the patient to control the delivery of analgesic and provides superior pain relief by administration of continuous background infusion superimposed on boluses by using a small microprocessor-controlled pump to maintain the plasma level of the analgesic in a relative constant state and to eliminate the undesirable effects caused by fluctuations in plasma levels of the analgesic. When choosing a drug for PCA administration, the ideal drug should be highly efficacious, have a rapid onset of action, and a moderate duration of effect. The ideal drug should not accumulate or change pharmacokinetic properties with repeated administrations and should have a large therapeutic window. Pediatric patients especially have pain severity that is under estimated by nursing personnel, and these patients benefit greatly from the use of PCA. [35] This technique has been shown effective in patients as young as 11 years old. [36]

The most widely prescribed drug through this mode is morphine, in the dose of 1-1.5 mg with a lock-out period of 5-10 minutes. However, regular review is needed in every patient to ensure that pain relief is adequate. Patients who use this drug by PCA pump they reach a level of comfort, however, that usually is in balance between acceptable pain with minimal undesirable effects.

In PCA therapy, patients titrate their own need for analgesic to relieve the postoperative pain. Therefore, they must be able to activate the device and be willing to participate in their own treatment plan. Otherwise, some problems will be encountered during postoperative pain relief with PCA technique. Furthermore, the patient should be appropriately oriented to its proper usage. This usually can be accomplished in the recovery room by a properly trained recovery-room nurse. Otherwise, some problems will be encountered during pain relief with PCA.

Regarding the incidence of respiratory depression and/or respiratory arrest in patients on PCA has not been much reported.

  Central Neuraxial Technique Top

Neuraxial analgesic technique may be used for effective relief of pain and is superior to systemic opioids. [37] Moreover, pain relief through this route decrease morbidity and mortality. [37],[38],[39] Both opioids and local anesthetics can be provided by epidural or intrathecal route. Of these, epidural catheter infusion is the most commonly used method. However, for early postoperative pain therapy, intrathecal opioids have emerged as a first-line option, and are readily available with the surgeon administering the drug as long as the intrathecal sac is exposed. [5],[6],[40] Use of preservative-free morphine has evolved as the preferable opioid of choice, mainly because it has a relatively long duration of action without any demonstrable motor, sensory or autonomic deficit. Intrathecal morphine may cause sedation and respiratory depression. Therefore, adequate postoperative monitoring must be undertaken.

The advantages of epidural opioids or the combination of opioids and local anesthetics include low pain scores, [41] decreased parenteral opioid requirements, [42] and better patient satisfaction. Among the local anesthetics ropivacaine is the choice of agent due to its longer duration of action, safety, and selectivity toward sensory blocked without motor blockade. The most commonly used opioid for epidural analgesia is morphine. It was observed to show analgesic efficiency, even in very low blood concentrations after epidural administration. [43] It accumulates in cerebrospinal fluid due to its highly hydrophilicity. Low doses should be initiated in the elderly patients. Furthermore, opioids affect the modulation of nociceptive input by acting on receptors in the dorsal horn without producing motor or sympathetic blockade. Hence, opioids are useful in the pain management following spine surgery because motor and sensory functions are closely monitored during postoperative period. The advantages of the combination of local anesthetic and opioids are a synergistic effect with lower opioid doses and overall fewer side effects. [41]

Ideal way for epidural administration is intermittent injections. Otherwise, with an infusion technique, there is a risk for catheter migration, potential sympathetic block, and orthostatic hypotension.

Definite contraindication to neuraxial techniques of proving analgesia include coagulopathy and systemic infection associated with bacteremia. However, a patient with anticoagulation therapy is relative contraindication of this technique. The timing of the epidural catheter removal is important as most case reports of epidural hematoma have been demonstrated upon removal of the epidural catheter.

Nurses' monitoring the patients being well educated is also an important factor for choosing the technique. Standard orders for medications such as antiemetics (droperidol, 5HT 3 serotonin antagonists, etc.), antipruritus (diphenhydramine, etc.) greatly facilitate the delivery of postoperative care.

  Analgesic Adjuvants (Clonidine, Dexmeditomidine) Top

As adjuvants alpha-2 agonists have been used to potentiate the actions of local anesthetics, opioids, or the combination for epidural analgesia due to their analgesic properties and increasing the effects of local anesthetics. Furthermore, the other advantages of above-mentioned agents as analgesic adjuvants used epidurally include minimal respiratory depression with stable hemodynamics and also reduction if oxygen need. Reported common side effects associated with epidurally administered clonidine include bradycardia, hypotension, and sedation. [44] However, clonidine (150 mcg) through epidurally in addition to bupivacaine subcutaneously at the incision site, provide postoperative analgesia and hemodynamic stability in the patient following lower spine surgery. [45]

Dexmeditomidine is a highly selective alpha-2 adrenergic agonist. It has greater affinity toward receptors compared to clonidine. It reduces the undesirable effects of opioids and local anesthetics by reduction in requirement of analgesic. However, randomized control trials with dexmeditomidine involving spine procedure are needed for its recommendation in the present article.

  Extended Release Epidural Morphine (EREM) Top

This new drug called DepoDur applied as a single dose seems close to the analgesic targets. This drug was formulated for a one-time dose, administered epidurally at lumber level. Duration of effects may be prolonged up to 48 hours with EREM. [46],[47],[48],[49] Systemic concentration of morphine is minimal with EREM due to very high hydrophilicity of EREM. Better patient activity levels could be achieved with this new drug compared with morphine. [50] However, common side effects of this drug include pruritus and respiratory depression, [19] treated with opioid antagonists. Elderly are susceptible to the effects of EREM, and close perioperative monitoring is required.

This EREM may be an alternative for the management of postoperative pain in spinal surgery. [19]

  Conclusion Top

Postoperative pain is a clinical condition that should be treated accurately and completely. Severe postoperative pain impairs the quality of recovery and cause emotional distress with the possibility of inducing chronic pain and lasting functional deficits. Therefore, each patient should be determined according to the severity of the pain. Spinal surgery cause moderate to severe postoperative pain; therefore, adequate pain relief demand a 24-hour - a day - commitment to these patients. However, trial data on analgesic therapy after spinal surgery is limited, and there is a wide difference in management practices. Research efforts should, therefore, be directed toward conducting functional and long-term endpoints that are appropriate to reflect the effects of pain preventing strategies.

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