Commentary & Perspective
Meaningful Improvement in Perioperative Pain Control After Lumbar Surgery
Commentary on an article by Hyun Kang, MD, et al.: ‘‘Early Postoperative Analgesic Effects of a Single Epidural Injection of Ropivacaine Administered
Preoperatively in Posterior Lumbar Interbody Spinal Arthrodesis. A Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial’’
Michael J. Bolesta, MD
As in other types of major musculoskeletal surgery, pain control following lumbar decompression and arthrodesis can be chal-
lenging. Parenteral narcotics, usually with a patient-controlled pump, remain the mainstay. While effective for most patients, there
are substantial problems with this modality, including respiratory depression, nausea, emesis, and pruritus. Some patients, par-
ticularly those who are not opioid naı ¨ve, have perioperative pain that is refractory to narcotic analgesia. There is long-standing
interest in techniques to reduce our dependence on opioids. The report by Hyun Kang et al. is one of the latest in a long line of
studies examining regional blocks to reduce the need for parenteral narcotics.
This study has many strengths. It is randomized, double-blinded, prospective, and controlled. All patients had the same
surgical procedures at the same institution, minimizing variation in the amount of surgical trauma. The study and control groups
were statistically equivalent. The investigators demonstrated that a single dose of epidural ropivacaine reduced pain scores and
fentanyl consumption two to twelve hours following surgery. The number of button pushes to deliver fentanyl was decreased at all
but one time point up to forty-eight hours postoperatively. However, there was no difference between the two groups in terms of
postoperative nausea and emesis, the length of hospitalization, or patient satisfaction. It should be noted that the study design was
powered to discern the 2-point difference in pain at four hours. The study may be underpowered concerning these secondary but
interesting parameters. Six patients had to be replaced because of nausea, emesis, or delirium, demonstrating that neither exper-
imental nor standard treatment was successful in everyone.
Other regional techniques yield similaroutcomes. France et al. used long-acting intrathecal morphine in another prospective
randomized double-blind study of sixty-eight patients who were managed with posterolateral lumbar arthrodesis1. The forty-two
patients who were managed with intrathecal morphine had less pain than the twenty-six controls for the first twenty-four hours,
although the difference was significant only at time zero. Patient-controlled analgesia use was significantly less in the experimental
group throughout the first twenty-four hours. Interestingly, there was rebound, with more pain and patient-controlled analgesia
use in the treatment group after twenty-four hours. Three patients who were managed with intrathecal morphine had mild
respiratorydepression, and there was more pruritus in that group. The limitations of this method include the inability to repeat the
injection, the rebound phenomenon, and potential spinal fluid leakage.
Prasartritha et al. compared epidural morphine (administered with or without bupivacaine) with intravenous morphine in a
study of 120 randomized patients undergoing lumbar decompression, arthrodesis, or both2. Visual analog scale pain scores were
lower in the epidural groups as compared with the parenteral drug group up to forty-eight hours. Patients managed with bupiv-
acaine had less pain than those managed with epidural morphine alone at sixteen and twenty-four hours. There was no respiratory
depression, but pruritus was common in the epidural groups. This method allows additional dosing but has the potential disad-
vantages of catheter misplacement, leakage, infection, epidural bleeding, and neural complications from the catheter.
Diaz etal. performed arandomized double-blinded controlled trialof201 patientswhoweremanaged with lumbardiscectomy
or decompression for the treatment of spinal stenosis3. They prepared four different epidural pastes: (1) a combination paste
(morphine and methylprednisolone), (2) a steroid paste (methylprednisolone alone), a morphine paste (morphine alone), or
placebo (microfibrillar collagen alone). Significant reduction in pain ratings in the first three days after surgery occurred in
association with the combination and steroid paste but not in association with morphine or collagen alone. The same held true
for narcotic analgesic consumption. Although the dosage of the active ingredients varied between the two types of decompression,
the authors speculated that the morphine dosage may have been too low. Secondary clinical outcome measures were similar in all
groups up to one year. The technique has the potential to retain the medication at the surgical site but does not allow repeat dosing.
It avoids the disadvantages of an epidural catheter without violating the dura.
There are myriad similar studies in the literature. Clearly, regional analgesia can successfully reduce parenteral narcotic
requirements in the early postoperative period. Each technique has advantages, disadvantages, and potential side effects. The study
COPYRIGHT ? 2013 BY THE JOURNAL OF BONE AND JOINT SURGERY, INCORPORATED
J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2013;95:e30(1-2)