Ketamine infusion for pain control in elderly patients with multiple rib fractures: Results of a randomized controlled trial

J Trauma Acute Care Surg. 2019 Nov;87(5):1181-1188. doi: 10.1097/TA.0000000000002479.


Background: Rib fractures are associated with increased mortality, particularly in the elderly. While opiate-based pain regimens remain the cornerstone of rib fracture management, issues related to opioids have driven research into alternative analgesics. Adjunctive ketamine use in lieu of opioids continues to increase but little evidence exists to support its efficacy or safety within the elderly trauma population.

Methods: A prospective, randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled trial of elderly patients (age, ≥65 years) with three or more rib fractures admitted to a Level I trauma center was conducted. Exclusion criteria included Glasgow Coma Scale score less than 14, and chronic opiate use. Groups were randomized to either low-dose ketamine (LDK) at 2 μg·kg·min or an equivalent rate of 0.9% normal saline. The primary outcome was reduction in numeric pain scores (NPS). Secondary outcomes included oral morphine equivalent (OME) utilization, epidural rates, pulmonary complications, and adverse events.

Results: Thirty (50.8%) of 59 were randomized to the experimental arm. Groups were similar in makeup. Low-dose ketamine failed to reduce 24-hour NPS or OME totals. Subgroup analysis of 24 patients with Injury Severity Score greater than 15 demonstrated that LDK was associated with a reduction in OME utilization the first 24-hours (25.6 mg vs. 42.6 mg, p = 0.04) but at no other time points. No difference in other secondary outcomes or adverse events was noted.

Conclusion: Low-dose ketamine failed to affect NPS or OME within the overall cohort, but a decrease in OME was observed in those with an Injury Severity Score greater than 15. Additional studies are necessary to confirm whether LDK benefits severely injured elderly patients.

Level of evidence: Therapeutic, level I.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acute Pain / diagnosis
  • Acute Pain / drug therapy*
  • Acute Pain / etiology
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Analgesics / administration & dosage*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • Glasgow Coma Scale
  • Humans
  • Infusions, Intravenous
  • Injury Severity Score
  • Ketamine / administration & dosage*
  • Male
  • Pain Management / methods*
  • Pain Measurement
  • Prospective Studies
  • Rib Fractures / complications*
  • Rib Fractures / diagnosis
  • Rib Fractures / therapy
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Analgesics
  • Ketamine