North American surgeons continue to routinely order narcotic medication for postoperative pain relief after carpal tunnel surgery. For some patients, this instigates persistent use. This double-blind, multicenter trial investigated whether over-the-counter medications were inferior to opioid pain control after carpal tunnel release.
Patients undergoing carpal tunnel release in five centers in Canada and the United States (n = 347) were randomly assigned to postoperative pain control with (opioid) hydrocodone/acetaminophen 5/325 mg versus over-the-counter ibuprofen/acetaminophen 600/325 mg. The two primary outcome measures were the Numeric Pain Rating Scale (0 to 10) and the six-item Patient-Reported Outcome Measurement Information System Pain Interference T-score. Secondary outcome measures were total medication used and overall satisfaction with pain medication management.
The authors found no significant differences between opioid and over-the-counter patients in the Numeric Pain Rating Scale scores, Pain Interference T-scores, number of doses of medication, or patient satisfaction. The highest Numeric Pain Rating Scale group difference was the night of surgery, when opiate patients had 0.9/10 more pain than over-the-counter patients. The highest group difference in Pain Interference T-scores (2.1) was on the day of surgery, when the opiate patients had more pain interference than the over-the-counter group. Patient nationality or sex did not generate significant pain score differences.
Pain management is not inferior for patients managed with over-the-counter acetaminophen/ibuprofen versus opioids. This study provides high-quality evidence that U.S. and Canadian surgeons should stop the routine prescription of narcotics after carpal tunnel surgery for patients who are not taking pain medicines daily before surgery.
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