Virtual Reality as a Non-Pharmacologic Analgesic for Fasciotomy Wound Infections in Acute Compartment Syndrome: A Case Report

J Med Case Rep. 2020 Apr 14;14(1):46. doi: 10.1186/s13256-020-02370-4.


Background: Fasciotomy is a life-saving procedure to treat acute compartment syndrome, a surgical emergency. As fasciotomy dramatically improves wound pain, it should be performed as soon as possible. Moreover, delays in the use of fasciotomy can increase the rate of wound infections. Once the fasciotomy wound is infected, pain control is achieved via the long-term use of opioids or anti-inflammatory analgesics. However, the administration of high doses of opioids may cause complications, such as respiratory depression, over-sedation, and constipation. Therefore, treatment methods other than narcotic administration should be established to better manage the pain caused by fasciotomy wound infections. Virtual reality has recently been introduced in analgesic therapy as a replacement, or complement, to conventional pharmacological treatments. Its use has been extensively studied in the pain management of patients with burns. An increasing number of painful conditions are being successfully treated with virtual reality. Here, we report a case of acute compartment syndrome complicated by fasciotomy wound infection.

Case presentation: A 40-year-old Japanese man suffering from acute compartment syndrome of his leg due to a car accident trauma was treated with a fasciotomy to decompress intra-compartmental pressure and restore tissue perfusion, and admitted to an intensive care unit. Unfortunately, as the open fasciotomy wound was complicated by infection, he complained of hyperalgesia and severe pain during wound debridement. He was therefore given acetaminophen and high-dose intravenous patient-controlled analgesic fentanyl (35 μg/kg per day) to reduce the pain. Despite these efforts, the pain was poorly controlled and opioid-induced side effects such as respiratory depression were observed. An immersive virtual reality analgesic therapy aimed at distraction and relaxation was used and effectively alleviated the pain. Three sessions of virtual reality analgesic therapy over 2 days produced sustainable analgesic effects, which led to a 25-75% dose reduction in fentanyl administration and the concomitant alleviation of respiratory depression.

Conclusions: This case suggests the feasibility of virtual reality analgesic therapy for pain management of fasciotomy wound complications in acute compartment syndromes. Virtual reality represents a treatment option that would reduce analgesic consumption and eliminate opioid-induced respiratory depression to treat fasciotomy wound infection.

Keywords: Acute compartment syndrome; Fasciotomy wound infections; Virtual reality.