Characterization of a model of persistent postoperative pain evoked by skin/muscle incision and retraction (SMIR)

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Various surgical procedures, e.g. thoracotomy and inguinal hernia repair, frequently evoke persistent pain lasting for many months following the initial surgery. The essential prolonged tissue retraction required during such surgeries may account for the persistence and high incidence of postoperative pain in these patient populations. This study describes a new rat model of persistent postoperative pain evoked by skin/muscle incision and retraction (SMIR), akin to a clinical procedure. Under anaesthesia, skin and superficial muscle of the medial thigh were incised and a small pair of retractors inserted. This tissue was retracted for 1 h causing potential stretch of the saphenous nerve. SMIR surgery evoked persistent significant mechanical hypersensitivity to von Frey stimulation of the plantar ipsilateral hindpaw, compared to either pre-surgery responses or concurrent responses of sham-operated rats. SMIR-evoked mechanical hypersensitivity was observed by postoperative day 3, most prominent between postoperative days 10 and 13, persisted until at least postoperative day 22 and had dissipated by postoperative day 32. Overall, mechanical sensitivity of the SMIR contralateral paw and the sham ipsilateral paw did not significantly change from pre-surgery responses. SMIR did not evoke significant heat hyperalgesia or cold allodynia. Light microscopy of saphenous nerve sections did not show degeneration or oedema in the saphenous nerve at, or proximally or distally to, the surgical site. In addition, very little to no degeneration was detected with ATF3 staining in DRG from SMIR-operated rats. These data suggest that prolonged retraction of superficial tissue evokes a persistent pain syndrome that is not driven by neuronal damage.

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