Doctors seek opioid alternatives for post-surgery pain control

Rotator-cuff surgery is one of the most painful procedures for patients to recover from, making it a testing ground for alternatives to opioid painkillers for controlling patient pain, according to The Wall Street Journal.

If the techniques work to control pain after rotator-cuff surgery, where doctors repair a torn shoulder tendon, the idea is that the alternatives would help after other procedures as well, the article says. If effective, they could be adopted by orthopedic surgeons who are among the most frequent prescribers of opioids for patients' pain, the report adds.

The techniques for pain management aren't new, but they are being used more often in combination--in what is known as multimodal management--because of the country's drive to reduce the use of narcotic painkillers that have led to an opioid abuse epidemic, according to the report.

Some of the techniques surgeons are using include the injection of a non-addictive anesthetic to block pain signals, implanting a catheter under the skin to deliver anesthetics for several days after surgery, wearing icing devices and mechanical stimulation of the site to reduce pain and swelling during physical therapy, and drug regimens that get patients on non-addictive pain medications within several days.

"As a profession, we prescribe too many narcotics for too many patients. Barring unusual circumstances, we should be able to get a good handle on patients' pain after surgery and minimize their opioid use," Andrew Rokito, chief of the division of shoulder and elbow surgery at NYU Langone Medical Center's Department of Orthopaedic Surgery in New York, tells the WSJ.

To learn more:
- read the article