Painful discrimination: the differential use of analgesia in isolated lower limb injuries

Am J Emerg Med. 2002 Oct;20(6):502-5. doi: 10.1053/ajem.2002.34965.


Our primary objective was to compare use of analgesia for patients with and without fracture as a result of isolated lower extremity trauma, in the emergency department (ED). Our secondary objective was to compare the analgesic practices of emergency physicians (EPs) with that of physician assistants (PAs). We performed a prospective, blinded cohort study with the presence of fracture as the risk factor and provision of any pain medication while in the ED as the primary outcome. Included in the study were all patients who presented to a 90,000 visit suburban teaching hospital with an isolated lower extremity injury who received a radiograph of the foot or ankle over a 9-week period. We excluded patients without trauma, with multiple trauma, admitted, or seen by one of the investigators. Patients admitted and those with multiple trauma were excluded because these patients had contacts with multiple physicians and it is unlikely they would be able to differentiate which physician prescribed medication and if they were emergency personnel. We defined analgesia as any pain medication at any dose. One investigator preformed follow-up interviews using a standardized questionnaire 3 days after the visit. Patients expressed their recollection of their degree of pain using a verbal analog scale of 1 to 10. We report crude and adjusted odds ratios (OR). Of 516 consecutive patients, 111 met exclusion criteria and 3 had incomplete data. Of the remaining 405, we contacted 384 (95%) in an average of 3 +/- 1 days. Patients with and without fractures recalled their initial degree of pain similarly, with the mean initial pain scores on the verbal analog scale of 6.6 +/- 2.5 versus 6.8 +/- 2.1 respectively. Patients with a fracture were more likely to receive pain medication while in the ED (23% v 15% P =.047, OR 1.75 (CI 95% 1.02, 2.99). EPs gave some form of ED analgesia to 29% of patients, as compared with 10% of patients seen by PAs (OR = 3.58 CI 95% 2.05, 6.24). EPs provided a prescription to 44% of patients versus 21% of patients seen by PAs (OR = 2.91 CI 95% 1.85, 4.57). Our estimated adjusted ORs for providing analgesia in the ED were: fracture = 2.0 (CI 95% 1.13, 3.58); EP: 3.52 (CI 95% 1.98, 2.99); and for every additional point on the verbal pain scale: 1.28 (CI 95% 1.11, 1.48). Patients with fracture were more likely to receive pain, despite reporting identical degree of pain. EPs were more likely to provide analgesia than PAs.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Evaluation Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Analgesia / statistics & numerical data*
  • Ankle / diagnostic imaging
  • Child
  • Child Welfare
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cohort Studies
  • Discrimination, Psychological
  • Emergency Medical Services / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Foot / diagnostic imaging
  • Fractures, Bone / complications
  • Fractures, Bone / psychology
  • Fractures, Bone / therapy
  • Humans
  • Leg Injuries / complications
  • Leg Injuries / psychology
  • Leg Injuries / therapy
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain / drug therapy*
  • Pain / etiology
  • Pain / psychology
  • Pain Measurement / psychology*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Radiography
  • Suburban Health
  • Trauma Severity Indices
  • Treatment Outcome