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Madeline B. Karsten, Steven J. Staffa, Craig D. McClain, Jennifer Amon, and Scellig S. D. Stone


Selective dorsal rhizotomy (SDR) requires significant postoperative pain management, traditionally relying heavily on systemic opioids. Concern for short- and long-term effects of these agents has generated interest in reducing systemic opioid administration without sacrificing analgesia. Epidural analgesia has been applied in pediatric patients undergoing SDR; however, whether this reduces systemic opioid use has not been established. In this retrospective cohort study, the authors compared postoperative opioid use and clinical measures between patients treated with SDR who received postoperative epidural analgesia and those who received systemic analgesia only.


All patients who underwent SDR at Boston Children’s Hospital between June 2013 and November 2019 were reviewed. Treatment used the same surgical technique. Postoperative systemic opioid dosage (in morphine milligram equivalents per kilogram [MME/kg]), pain scores, need for respiratory support, vomiting, bowel movements, and length of hospital and ICU stay were compared between patients who received postoperative epidural analgesia and those who did not, by using the Wilcoxon rank-sum test or Fisher’s exact test.


A total of 35 patients were identified, including 18 females (51.4%), with a median age at surgery of 6.1 years. Thirteen patients received postoperative epidural and systemic analgesia and 22 patients received systemic analgesia only. Groups were otherwise similar, with treatment selection based solely on surgeon routine. Patients who received epidural analgesia required less systemic morphine milligram equivalents/kg on postoperative days (PODs) 0–4 (p ≤ 0.042). Patients who did not receive epidural analgesia were more likely to require respiratory support on POD 1 (45% vs 8%; p = 0.027). Reported pain scores did not differ between groups, although patients receiving epidural analgesia trended toward less severe pain on PODs 1 and 2. Groups did not differ with respect to postoperative vomiting or time to first bowel movement, although epidural analgesia use was associated with a longer hospital stay (median 7 vs 5 days; p < 0.001).


Patients who received postoperative epidural analgesia required less systemic opioid use and had at least equivalent reported pain scores on PODs 1–4, and they required less respiratory support on POD 1, although they remained in the hospital longer when compared to patients who received systemic analgesia only. A larger prospective study is needed to confirm whether epidural analgesia lowers systemic opioid use in children, contributes to a safer postoperative hospital stay, and results in better pain control following SDR.