Background: Managing postoperative pain in hand surgery is important for both patients and surgeons. However, there is growing concern over prescription opioid abuse. We hypothesized: (1) that pain medications after carpal tunnel release (CTR) surgery are over-prescribed; and (2) that opioids are unnecessary in the majority of patients. Methods: We prospectively studied 2 demographically similar patient cohorts receiving either opioid or tramadol for CTR performed by 2 hand surgery fellowship-trained orthopedic surgeons over a 1-year period. The first cohort of patients undergoing CTR received opioids pills postoperatively. The second cohort of patients received a standard prescription of 10 tramadol pills postoperatively. Student t tests were performed to evaluate statistically significant differences between the tramadol and opioid cohorts in total pill consumption and number of postoperative days the medication was used. Results: The opioid cohort consisted of 159 patients with a mean opioid consumption of 4.9 pills for 2.3 days. Eleven of these patients declined the use of opioids postoperatively and instead substituted for nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories and/or acetaminophen. The tramadol cohort consisted of 110 patients with a mean tramadol consumption of 3.3 pills for 1.8 days. Seven of these patients requested opioids postoperatively, and 14 substituted for nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and/or acetaminophen. When comparing the postoperative consumption of opioids and tramadol for CTR, there was a statistically significant difference in total pill consumption based on both intention to treat as well as the medication ultimately prescribed. There was no difference in the duration of postoperative utilization. Conclusion: Following CTR, pain medications are being over-prescribed, with patients receiving more than double the amount of pills than they consume. Tramadol appears to be equally effective in managing postoperative pain compared with opioids.
- carpal tunnel release
- prescription amount