Pain Management After Outpatient Anterior Cruciate Ligament Reconstruction: A Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials

Am J Sports Med. 2016 Sep;44(9):2435-47. doi: 10.1177/0363546515617737. Epub 2015 Dec 18.


Background: Effective pain management after anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) reconstruction improves patient satisfaction and function.

Purpose: To collect and evaluate the available evidence from randomized controlled trials (RCTs) on pain control after ACL reconstruction.

Study design: Systematic review.

Methods: A systematic literature review was performed using PubMed, Medline, Google Scholar, UpToDate, Cochrane Reviews, CINAHL, and Scopus following PRISMA guidelines (July 2014). Only RCTs comparing a method of postoperative pain control to another method or placebo were included.

Results: A total of 77 RCTs met inclusion criteria: 14 on regional nerve blocks, 21 on intra-articular injections, 4 on intramuscular/intravenous injections, 12 on multimodal regimens, 6 on oral medications, 10 on cryotherapy/compression, 6 on mobilization, and 5 on intraoperative techniques. Single-injection femoral nerve blocks provided superior analgesia to placebo for up to 24 hours postoperatively; however, this also resulted in a quadriceps motor deficit. Indwelling femoral catheters utilized for 2 days postoperatively provided superior analgesia to a single-injection femoral nerve block. Local anesthetic injections at the surgical wound site or intra-articularly provided equivalent analgesia to regional nerve blocks. Continuous-infusion catheters of a local anesthetic provided adequate pain relief but have been shown to cause chondrolysis. Cryotherapy improved analgesia compared to no cryotherapy in 4 trials, while in 4 trials, ice water and water at room temperature provided equivalent analgesic effects. Early weightbearing decreased pain compared to delayed weightbearing. Oral gabapentin given preoperatively and oral zolpidem given for the first week postoperatively each decreased opioid consumption as compared to placebo. Ibuprofen reduced pain compared to acetaminophen. Oral ketorolac reduced pain compared to hydrocodone-acetaminophen.

Conclusion: Regional nerve blocks and intra-articular injections are both effective forms of analgesia. Cryotherapy-compression appears to be beneficial, provided that intra-articular temperatures are sufficiently decreased. Early mobilization reduces pain symptoms. Gabapentin, zolpidem, ketorolac, and ibuprofen decrease opioid consumption. Despite the vast amount of high-quality evidence on this topic, further research is needed to determine the optimal multimodal approach that can maximize recovery while minimizing pain and opioid consumption.

Clinical relevance: These results provide the best available evidence from RCTs on pain control regimens after ACL reconstruction.

Keywords: anterior cruciate ligament; cryotherapy; intra-articular injections; pain management; regional nerve block.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Ambulatory Surgical Procedures / adverse effects*
  • Anterior Cruciate Ligament Reconstruction / adverse effects*
  • Pain Management / methods*
  • Pain, Postoperative / therapy*
  • Postoperative Complications / therapy*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic