How To Minimize Post-Op Pain After Reconstructive Surgery

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By J. Michael Miller, DPM

Minimizing postoperative discomfort for patients is a common goal of all surgeons. Techniques for achieving this goal seem to vary significantly among surgical specialties. Unfortunately, patients often have preconceived expectations that they will experience considerable discomfort after foot surgery. This is usually based on their experience with other surgical procedures or from discussions with other people in their community who have expressed their “experience” with foot surgery.
This fear of significant postoperative discomfort occasionally will preclude some patients from undergoing needed reconstructive foot procedures. Our responsibility to patients is to make sure they are well educated regarding our efforts toward reducing postoperative discomfort.
Fortunately, we’ve been able to significantly reduce post-op discomfort in recent years with a few prophylactic techniques that I have learned through discussions with other surgeons across the country. In fact, the majority of our patients are able to avoid narcotic medication entirely. This has especially been the case with patients who underwent forefoot surgery and we’ve also been able to achieve this on several occasions in which we performed more extensive rearfoot/ankle reconstructive procedures as well.

Steps You Can Take To Minimize Discomfort
Reducing or eliminating postoperative discomfort has improved the quality of life for these patients and has also made a tremendous impact on patient referrals for surgery as well. To that end, I have implemented several techniques to reduce discomfort of my patients after surgery. Here are some of those techniques in greater detail.
1) Pre-inject a local anesthetic and soluble steroid mixture prior to performing the surgical incision. The mixture is a 0.5% marcaine plain and dexamethasone phosphate (4 mg/cc) in a 9:1 ratio that you mix together in a single syringe. Use a 10-cc syringe for ease of measurement (9 cc local and 1 cc soluble steroid). This mixture will block the afferent stimulus to the central nervous system and the field block of the soluble steroid will diminish local inflammatory factors surrounding the entire surgical area.
Pre-injection of the local anesthetic agent will decrease the amount of parenteral and inhalation anesthetic agents needed for those procedures requiring general anesthesia by blocking the noxious stimuli from the procedure prior to skin incision. The mixture of the soluble steroid with the local anesthetic agent will also prolong the duration of the field block, sometimes lasting 36 to 48 hours.
2) Release the tourniquet to close the surgical site “wet” after performing deep closure. This provides physiologic irrigation (bleeding) to flush out contamination and will allow for swelling to occur prior to placing the surgical dressing. Using this simple technique allows you to significantly reduce postoperative discomfort from a dressing that is “too tight.” Releasing the tourniquet during closing also allows you to inspect for any bleeding vessels that could lead to hematoma formation and also helps you ensure adequate reperfusion to the surgical area.

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