Neurophysiological characterization of postherniotomy pain

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Abstract

Inguinal herniotomy is one of the most frequent surgical procedures and chronic pain affecting everyday activities is reported in ∼10% of patients. However, the neurophysiological changes and underlying pathophysiological mechanisms of postherniotomy pain are not known in detail, thereby precluding advances in treatment strategies and prophylaxis. Therefore, we examined forty-six patients reporting moderate to severe postherniotomy pain affecting daily activities for more than a year postoperatively, and compared them with a control group of patients without pain 1 yr postoperatively. A quantitative sensory testing protocol was used, assessing sensory dysfunction type, location and severity. We assessed the protocol test–retest variability using data from healthy control subjects. All patients (pain and pain-free) had signs of nerve damage, seen as sensory dysfunction. Detection thresholds for tactile and warmth stimulation were significantly increased while cold detection and pressure pain detection thresholds were significantly decreased in pain patients compared to controls. Repetitive punctuate and brush stimulation resulted in significantly more frequent and intense pain on the painful side than on the unaffected side in pain patients, and was not observed in controls. Our findings showed large and small fiber dysfunction in both pain and pain-free patients but more profound in pain patients and with signs of central sensitization (abnormal temporal summation). The specific finding of reduced pain detection threshold over the external inguinal annulus is consistent with damage to the cutaneous innervation territory of nervous structures in the inguinal region. The correspondence between pain location and sensory disturbance suggests that the pain is neuropathic in nature. Whether the underlying pathophysiological mechanisms are related to direct intraoperative nerve injury or nerve injury due to an inflammatory mesh response remains to be determined.

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