Background: Thoracic epidural analgesia (TEA), a commonly used analgesic technique in patients with multiple fractured ribs, is technically demanding and associated with certain side effects or complications. Thoracic paravertebral block (TPVB) is a simple and effective method of providing continuous pain relief in these patients. However, it has never been compared with TEA in terms of efficacy and outcome in patients with fractured ribs.
Methods: Thirty adult patients of either sex, having three or more unilateral fractured ribs, were randomized to receive continuous bupivacaine infusion through either thoracic epidural or thoracic paravertebral catheter. Visual Analog Scale scores at rest and on coughing, respiratory rate, peak expiratory flow rate, and PaO2/FIO2 ratio were measured before and after administration of block at regular intervals. Morphine requirement for rescue analgesia, duration of bupivacaine infusion, length of intensive care unit and hospital stay, development of pulmonary complications, and complications of the two techniques were also recorded.
Results: Both TEA and TPVB provided good pain relief and improved respiratory function, as evident by improvement in Visual Analog Scale scores at rest and on coughing, respiratory rate, and peak expiratory flow rate. However, no significant intergroup differences were found. Duration of bupivacaine infusion, morphine requirement, length of intensive care unit and hospital stay, and incidence of pulmonary complications were also similar in the two groups. Incidence of hypotension was more in TEA group.
Conclusions: Continuous bupivacaine infusion through TPVB is as effective as through TEA for pain management in patients with unilateral fractured ribs and the outcome after two techniques is comparable.