Postoperative pain control using epidural catheters after anterior spinal fusion for adolescent scoliosis

Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2001 Jun 1;26(11):1290-3. doi: 10.1097/00007632-200106010-00024.


Study design: A prospective review of patients undergoing epidural catheter placement after anterior spinal fusion and instrumentation for adolescent scoliosis was performed. Data were collected using visual analog pain scores reflecting the patients' perception of their pain control.

Objectives: To present the authors' technique for epidural catheter placement and dosing protocol, and to demonstrate the results from postoperative pain control after anterior spinal instrumented fusion for 10 consecutive patients.

Summary of background data: The literature regarding the benefits of epidural catheters after spinal surgery is contradictory, even with controlled studies comparing epidural catheters with intravenous morphine patient-controlled anesthesia. The authors believe that this lack of consensus stems from varied epidural dosing protocols and techniques in catheter placement, which they have witnessed anecdotally at their own institution. This prompted the authors to develop and refine a standardized dosing and catheter placement protocol for pain control after spinal surgery.

Methods: Epidural catheters were placed intraoperatively before wound closure, then removed on postoperative Day 5. Dosing consisted of fentanyl (1 microg/kg) and hydromorphone (5 microg/kg) diluted in preservative-free saline (0.2 mL/kg). After surgery, dosing consisted of 0.1% ropivacaine and hydromorphone (10 microg/ml) continuously infused at 0.2 mL/kg/hour. Postoperative pain control was assessed on each postoperative day using a visual analog pain scale with choices ranging from 0 to 10.

Results: The arithmetic mean of the median pain scores after surgery was 2.1. The mean of the maximum pain scores for the 5 days was 4.1. Three patients required an epidural bolus and a 20% increase in the epidural infusion rate. One patient was judged to be excessively sleepy, so the epidural infusion rate was decreased by 20%. Pruritus requiring diphenhydramine developed in three patients. No other adverse effects related to epidural analgesia were noted. No catheters were accidentally pulled out or disconnected.

Conclusion: By following the dosing protocol described, epidural catheters can be used safely and effectively to control postoperative pain after anterior instrumentation and spinal fusion for adolescent scoliosis.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Amides / administration & dosage
  • Amides / therapeutic use
  • Analgesics, Opioid / administration & dosage
  • Analgesics, Opioid / therapeutic use
  • Anesthetics, Local / administration & dosage
  • Anesthetics, Local / therapeutic use
  • Catheterization*
  • Child
  • Cohort Studies
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Drug Therapy, Combination
  • Epidural Space*
  • Female
  • Fentanyl / administration & dosage
  • Fentanyl / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Hydromorphone / administration & dosage
  • Hydromorphone / therapeutic use
  • Intraoperative Period
  • Male
  • Orthopedic Fixation Devices
  • Pain, Postoperative / physiopathology
  • Pain, Postoperative / prevention & control*
  • Palliative Care / methods*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Ropivacaine
  • Scoliosis / surgery*
  • Spinal Fusion*


  • Amides
  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Anesthetics, Local
  • Ropivacaine
  • Hydromorphone
  • Fentanyl