Preventive Analgesia

A strategy for reducing postsurgical pain by treating pain both before and during surgery. It has been shown to reduce pain after surgery and decrease the use of analgesics.

Acute pain, as from a surgical incision, can lead to emotional and psychological distress as well as chronic pain via a phenomenon known as central sensitization. In central sensitization, an acute injury can make the nervous system overly reactive to pain. Chronic postsurgical pain — pain that persists for three to six months after surgery — occurs in 10 to 50 percent of patients following surgery and can seriously disrupt the quality of their lives.

For many years, pain specialists have studied and discussed “pre-emptive analgesia,” but now they are focusing on “preventive analgesia.” Whereas pre-emptive analgesia refers to taking measures to control pain before surgery, preventive analgesia refers to applying pain control measures both before and after the initial surgical incision. Preventive analgesia is thought to dampen central sensitization and thus block or alleviate chronic pain. Studies have suggested that several different preventive analgesic regimens, which include a variety of medications and nerve block techniques, may decrease pain and patients’ reliance on painkillers following surgery. Research into this exciting approach continues.

Want to learn more pain-related terms? See our Definitions section.

Robert S. Dinsmoor is a medical writer and editor based in Massachusetts.

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