Patient Reported Pain After Successful Nonunion Surgery: Can We Completely Eliminate It?

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Objectives:To investigate what factors are associated with continued long-term pain after fracture nonunion surgery.Design:Prospective cohort study.Setting:Single Academic Institution.Patients/Participants:Three hundred forty-one patients surgically treated for fracture nonunion were prospectively followed. Demographics, radiographic evaluations, VAS pain scores, and short musculoskeletal functional assessment (SMFA) scores were collected at routine intervals. Only patients who had a minimum of 1-year follow-up and complete healing were included this analysis. Patients were divided into a high-pain and low-pain cohort for comparison. Inclusion criteria for the high-pain cohort were defined as any patient who reported a pain score greater than one standard deviation above the mean.Main Outcome Measures:Long-term VAS pain scores and factors contributing to increased patient-reported long-term VAS pain scores.Results:Two hundred seventy patients met criteria and were included in this analysis, with 223 patients (82.6%) in the low-pain cohort and 47 patients (17.4%) in the high-pain cohort. The mean long-term pain score was 7.47 ± 1.2 in the high-pain group and 1.78 ± 1.9 in the low-pain group. Within the high-pain cohort, 55.6% of patients reported a net increase in pain from baseline to long-term follow-up compared with 10.5% in the low-pain cohort (P < 0.0005). High baseline pain score (P = 0.003), increased Charlson comorbidity index (CCI) (P = 0.008), lower income level (P = 0.014), and current smoking status (P = 0.033) were found to be significantly more prevalent in the high-pain cohort.Conclusions:Patients with higher baseline pain scores, elevated Charlson comorbidity index, lower income level or history of smoking are at an increased risk of reporting significant and potentially debilitating long-term pain after nonunion surgery. Although patients may expect complete relieve of pain, orthopaedic surgeons must inform patients of the possibility of experiencing pain 1 year or more postoperatively.Level of Evidence:Prognostic Level III. See Instructions for Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.

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