Background

Given the widespread recognition that postsurgical movement-evoked pain is generally more intense, and more functionally relevant, than pain at rest, the authors conducted an update to a previous 2011 review to re-evaluate the assessment of pain at rest and movement-evoked pain in more recent postsurgical analgesic clinical trials.

Methods

The authors searched MEDLINE and Embase for postsurgical pain randomized controlled trials and meta-analyses published between 2014 and 2023 in the setting of thoracotomy, knee arthroplasty, and hysterectomy using methods consistent with the original 2011 review. Included trials and meta-analyses were characterized according to whether they acknowledged the distinction between pain at rest and movement-evoked pain and whether they included pain at rest and/or movement-evoked pain as a pain outcome. For trials measuring movement-evoked pain, pain-evoking maneuvers used to assess movement-evoked pain were tabulated.

Results

Among the 944 included trials, 504 (53%) did not measure movement-evoked pain (vs. 61% in 2011), and 428 (45%) did not distinguish between pain at rest and movement-evoked pain when defining the pain outcome (vs. 52% in 2011). Among the 439 trials that measured movement-evoked pain, selection of pain-evoking maneuver was highly variable and, notably, was not even described in 139 (32%) trials (vs. 38% in 2011). Among the 186 included meta-analyses, 94 (51%) did not distinguish between pain at rest and movement-evoked pain (vs. 71% in 2011).

Conclusions

This updated review demonstrates a persistent limited proportion of trials including movement-evoked pain as a pain outcome, a substantial proportion of trials failing to distinguish between pain at rest and movement-evoked pain, and a lack of consistency in the use of pain-evoking maneuvers for movement-evoked pain assessment. Future postsurgical trials need to (1) use common terminology surrounding pain at rest and movement-evoked pain, (2) assess movement-evoked pain in virtually every trial if not contraindicated, and (3) standardize movement-evoked pain assessment with common, procedure-specific pain-evoking maneuvers. More widespread knowledge translation and mobilization are required in order to disseminate this message to current and future investigators.

Editor’s Perspective
What We Already Know about This Topic
  • Postsurgical pain is a common and disabling complication of the increasing number of surgeries performed annually, leading to reduced function and suffering, and in some cases chronic postsurgical pain and opioid use, making its accurate measurement important

  • Expert consensus groups have called for standardized measurement and reporting of movement-related pain after surgery, but at time of last review by this group, the majority of studies did not report movement-evoked pain

What This Article Tells Us That Is New
  • In this updated review, encompassing 944 studies published between 2014 and 2023, there was only a small improvement in movement-evoked pain reporting, with the methods used and distinction from pain at rest frequently omitted

  • Substantial improvements are needed in the clarity of methodology used to estimate the impact of pain on mobilization and physiologic recovery in future postsurgical pain studies

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