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Management of pain after burn injury

Abdi, Salahadina; Zhou, YiLib

Current Opinion in Anaesthesiology: October 2002 - Volume 15 - Issue 5 - p 563-567
Pain medicine

Purpose of review Burn pain is often under treated. Burn patients suffer from daily background pain as well as procedural pain. Direct mechanical and chemical stimulation to peripheral nociceptors, peripheral- and central sensitization contribute to the pathophysiology of pain. The purpose of this review is to discuss the current management of burn pain and also to stimulate future studies.

Recent findings Background pain is best treated with mild to moderate potent analgesics administered regularly to maintain a steady plasma drug concentration. Procedural pain should be treated vigorously with intravenous opioids, local or even general anesthesia if needed. Opioids are the mainstay of treatment for severe acute pain. PCA should be used wherever applicable. Further opioids should not be substituted by high dose NSAIDs in the management of procedural pain. Hypnosis, therapeutic touch, massage therapy, distracting techniques and other behavioral cognitive techniques have demonstrated some intriguing impact on acute as well as chronic burn pain treatment.

Summary There is no clear evidence to show that the use of opioids in acute pain may increase the likelihood of developing opioid dependency. Thus, pain after burn injury should be aggressively treated using pharmacologic and non-pharmacologic approaches. Further controlled studies are yet to be conducted to define appropriate treatments for different burn patients and to establish standard treatment protocols for burn pain.

aDepartment of Anesthesiology and Critical Care, Massachusetts General Hospital Pain Center, Boston, Massachusetts and bDelaware Back Pain and Sports Rehabilitation Center, Wilmington, Delaware, USA

Correspondence to Salahadin Abdi MD PhD, MGH Pain Center, Massachusetts General Hospital, 15 Parkman Street, WACC-333C, Boston, MA 02114, USA. Tel: +1 617 724 3464; fax: +1 617 724 2719; e-mail:

© 2002 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.