The value of postoperative epidural analgesia after major spinal surgery is well established. Thus far, the use of patient-controlled epidural analgesia (PCEA) has been denied to patients undergoing debridement and instrumentation in spondylodiscitis, with the risk of increased postoperative pain resulting in prolonged recovery. The value of PCEA with special regard to infectious complications remains to be clarified. The present study examined the value of postoperative PCEA in comparison with intravenous analgesia in patients with spondylodiscitis undergoing posterior spinal surgery.
Thirty-two patients treated surgically for spondylodiscitis of the thoracic and lumbar spine were prospectively included in a database and retrospectively reviewed for this study. Postoperative antibiotic treatment, functional capacity, pain levels, side effects, and complications were documented. Sixteen patients were given patient-demanded intravenous analgesia (PIA) followed by 16 patients assigned to PCEA. If PCEA was applied, the insertion of an epidural catheter was performed under the direct visual guidance of the surgeon at the end of the surgery.
Three patients intended for PCEA treatment were excluded due to predefined exclusion criteria. Postoperative pain was significantly lower in the PCEA group during the first 48 hours after surgery (p = 0.03). As determined by the trunk control test conducted at 8 (p < 0.001), 24 (p = 0.004), 48 (p = 0.015), 72 (p = 0.0031), and 96 hours (p < 0.001), patients in the PCEA treatment group displayed significantly increased mobilization capacity compared with those of the PIA group. Time until normal accomplishment of all mobilization maneuvers was reduced in the PCEA group compared with that in the PIA group (p = 0.04). No differences in complication rates were observed between the 2 groups (p = 0.52).
PCEA may reduce postoperative pain and lead to earlier achievement of functional capacity at a low complication rate in patients with surgically treated lumbar and thoracic spondylodiscitis.