Chronic postthoracotomy pain and health-related quality of life

Ann Thorac Surg. 2012 Apr;93(4):1242-7. doi: 10.1016/j.athoracsur.2012.01.031. Epub 2012 Mar 6.


Background: Pain after thoracotomy is common. The objective of this study was to assess whether pain 3 months postthoracotomy negatively impacts quality of life.

Methods: One hundred ten patients were prospectively assessed using the Medical Outcomes Study 36-Item Short Form Health Survey before and 3 months after elective thoracotomy. Pain and medication use were evaluated by questionnaire. Patients experiencing pain at 3 months were compared with patients who did not have postthoracotomy pain.

Results: Seventy-five patients (68%) had pain 3 months postthoracotomy; 12 patients (11%) rated their average pain greater than 3 (out of 10). Eighteen (16%) patients required opioid analgesics. The pain group reported lower SF-36 scores in physical functioning (p = 0.049), bodily pain (p = 0.0002), and vitality (p = 0.044). There were no other significant differences in any SF-36 scale between the pain and non-pain groups.

Conclusions: Pain is commonly reported at 3 months after elective thoracotomy but is generally mild, shows improvement with time, and does not usually require opioid analgesics. Patients who experience postthoracotomy pain at 3 months are at risk for significantly decreased physical functioning and vitality, but are not at risk for significantly decreased social, emotional, or mental health functioning compared with patients who do not experience postthoracotomy pain at 3 months.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Amines / therapeutic use
  • Analgesics / therapeutic use
  • Chronic Pain / drug therapy
  • Chronic Pain / etiology*
  • Cyclohexanecarboxylic Acids / therapeutic use
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Gabapentin
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain, Postoperative / drug therapy
  • Pain, Postoperative / etiology*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Quality of Life*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Thoracotomy / adverse effects*
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / therapeutic use


  • Amines
  • Analgesics
  • Cyclohexanecarboxylic Acids
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid
  • Gabapentin