Fat Grafting for Neuropathic Pain After Severe Burns

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Abstract

Background

Chronic neuropathic pain after burn injury is a significant problem that affects up to 29% of burn patients. Neuropathic burn scar pain is a challenge for plastic and burn surgeons, who have limited solutions. Fat grafting, with its mechanical and regenerative qualities, can improve neuropathic pain from various traumatic and postsurgical etiologies, but its effectiveness in neuropathic burn scar pain has yet to be demonstrated. In this study, the possible role of lipotransfer in treating neuropathic burn scar pain is explored, focusing on safety, graft take, and short-term efficacy.

Methods

We performed an institutional review board–approved, retrospective case review of 7 patients with chronic, refractory neuropathic pain, who underwent fat grafting to burn scars. These patients had failed conventional therapy, which included pharmacologic, medical, and laser treatment of the burn scars. Each patient had 2 sessions of fat grafting, spaced 2 months apart. The Patient-Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System (PROMIS) was used to assess pain perception, with patients answering the questionnaire before and after fat grafting, to assess subjective outcomes.

Results

Six of 7 patients had improvement in neuropathic pain after fat grafting, permitting reduction in their neuropharmacologic regimen. Tinel sign, present in all patients preoperatively, was absent on examination in all patients at follow-up. Three of the 5 patients who completed PROMIS questionnaires had PROMIS scores indicating improvement in pain by 1-year follow-up. One patient had similar preoperative and postoperative PROMIS scores, and 1 patient had an increase in pain at follow-up; however, he had suffered an additional burn to the same extremity. Analysis of pooled mean PROMIS scores reflects a statistically significant improvement in subjective outcomes by 1-year follow-up. Donor-site seroma in 1 patient was the only complication, with no cases of infection, wound breakdown, or graft loss.

Conclusions

Adipose tissue can be safely grafted into burn scars and may improve symptoms in patients with refractory neuropathic pain after burn injury. Further translational and clinical research is necessary to elucidate mechanisms of action, indications, optimal type of transfer, and long-term effectiveness.

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