Journal Logo

Institutional members access full text with Ovid®

Postoperative Pain and Opioid Use in Children with Supracondylar Humeral Fractures

Balancing Analgesia and Opioid Stewardship

Nelson, Susan E., MD, MPH1; Adams, Alexander J., BS2; Buczek, Matthew J., BS2; Anthony, Chris A., MD3; Shah, Apurva S., MD, MBA2

doi: 10.2106/JBJS.18.00657
Scientific Articles
Supplementary Content

Background: Effective postoperative analgesia remains a priority in orthopaedic surgery, but concerns with regard to opioid diversion and misuse have brought overdue attention to improving opioid stewardship. Normative data for postoperative pain and opioid use are needed to guide and balance these dual priorities. We aimed to characterize postoperative pain and opioid use for an archetypal pediatric orthopaedic procedure: closed reduction and percutaneous pinning of a supracondylar humeral fracture.

Methods: Children at a single pediatric trauma center who underwent closed reduction and percutaneous pinning of a supracondylar humeral fracture were enrolled and were prospectively followed. Validated pain scores (Wong-Baker FACES Pain Rating Scale) and opioid utilization data were collected using an automated text message-based protocol on postoperative days 1 to 7, 10, 14, and 21. Data were analyzed with descriptive and univariate statistics.

Results: Eighty-one patients with a mean age (and standard deviation) of 6.1 ± 2.1 years (62% of whom were male) were enrolled, including 53.1% who had Type-II fractures and 46.9% who had Type-III fractures. The mean pain ratings were highest on arrival to the emergency department (3.5 ± 3.5 points) and the morning of postoperative day 1 (3.5 ± 2.4 points). By postoperative day 3, the mean pain rating decreased to <2 (1.8 ± 1.8 points) and the mean opioid doses decreased to <1 dose (0.8 ± 1.2 doses). Postoperative opioid use decreased in parallel to reported pain (r = 0.972; p < 0.001). The interquartile range of opioid use was 1 to 7 doses, and patients used only 24.1% of the prescribed opioids (mean, 4.8 ± 5.6 doses used and 19.8 ± 7.1 doses prescribed). There was no significant difference (p > 0.05) in pain ratings or opioid use by fracture classification, age, or sex.

Conclusions: Following closed reduction and percutaneous pinning for supracondylar humeral fracture, pain levels and opioid usage decrease to a clinically unimportant level by postoperative day 3. Patients who report pain scores of ≥6 points following discharge are outliers and should be screened for compartment syndrome or ischemia. Patients used <25% of prescribed opioid medication, suggesting the potential for overprescription and opioid diversion. A prescription for 7 opioid doses after discharge should allow adequate postoperative analgesia in the majority of patients while improving narcotic stewardship.

Level of Evidence: Therapeutic Level IV. See Instructions for Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.

1Department of Orthopaedics, University of Rochester Medical Center, Rochester, New York

2Division of Orthopaedics, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

3University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, Iowa City, Iowa

E-mail address for A.S. Shah:

Investigation performed at the Division of Orthopaedics, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Disclosure: There was no source of external funding for this study. The Disclosure of Potential Conflicts of Interest forms are provided with the online version of the article (

Copyright © 2019 by The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, Incorporated
You currently do not have access to this article

To access this article: