[Tramadol in acute pain]

Drugs. 1997;53 Suppl 2:25-33. doi: 10.2165/00003495-199700532-00007.
[Article in French]


Tramadol has been in clinical use in Germany since the late 1970s and has proven effective in both experimental and clinical pain without causing serious cardiovascular or respiratory side effects. Moreover, the negligible abuse potential of tramadol has meant that it has never been a restricted drug, and it therefore very quickly became the most popular analgesic of its class in Germany. Although tramadol has been used in myocardial emergencies, in trauma and obstetric pain, or to supplement balanced anaesthesia, most studies have investigated postoperative patients. The focus of this article is to review clinical experience with tramadol in the treatment of acute postoperative pain. Tramadol, a synthetic opioid of the aminocyclohexanol group, is a centrally acting analgesic with weak opioid agonist properties, and effects on noradrenergic and serotonergic neurotransmission. In addition, these opioid and nonopioid modes of action appear to act synergistically. Tramadol has been shown to provide effective analgesia after both intramuscular and intravenous administration for the treatment of postoperative pain. The drug is available in formulations suitable for oral, rectal and parenteral administration. Clinically effective analgesic doses of tramadol were comparable to those of pethidine (meperidine) and about 10 times higher than those of morphine. While it is not recommended as a supplement to general anaesthesia because of its insufficient sedative activity, tramadol has been successful in the treatment of postoperative pain. A randomised double-blind study reported acceptable analgesia with postoperative intravenous tramadol 50mg, repeated once if required after 30 minutes. It produced an effect similar to that of morphine 5mg or the alpha 2 agonist, clonidine 150 micrograms. In another study, it was shown that the 50mg dose of tramadol fulfilled the requirements of an analgesic for the treatment of moderate postoperative pain, whereas for severe pain a higher dose was recommended. Tramadol is generally well tolerated, the most common adverse events being nausea and vomiting. In contrast to agents such as morphine and pethidine, clinically relevant respiratory depression is rarely observed during tramadol administration at equipotent doses and consequently it can be recommended for first-line management of postoperative pain instead of morphine. It is also associated with a low incidence of cardiac depression and significantly less dizziness and drowsiness than morphine. Finally, the dependence and abuse potential with tramadol is negligible. Comparative studies have generally shown that tramadol is more effective than NSAIDs for controlling post operative pain. Use of a combination of tramadol and NSAIDs allows the tramadol dose to be reduced and results in a lower incidence of adverse effects. Patient controlled analgesia (PCA) with tramadol has been frequently used and is well accepted by patients. Wide individual variations exist with regard to analgesic requirements and, nowadays, it is generally accepted that adequate pain management implies systematic individualisation of the therapy, i.e. titration of the analgesic effect to individual needs. Demand and loading doses play a decisive role in the success of PCA. Analgesic failures requiring rescue medication are rare, but it should be stressed that these can always occur with weak opioids. In conclusion, tramadol can be recommended as a basic analgesic for the treatment of moderate to severe pain. In the event of analgesic failure with tramadol, there is no reason not to switch to more potent opioids. Although no studies are available regarding its use in the management of postoperative pain after day case surgery, tramadol is frequently administered with good results in such patients. The most important side effects of tramadol are nausea and emesis, which can often be prevented by slow injection and administration of a prophylactic antiemetic such as metoclopramid

Publication types

  • English Abstract
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Adult
  • Analgesia, Patient-Controlled
  • Analgesics, Opioid / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Infusions, Intravenous
  • Injections, Intramuscular
  • Pain / drug therapy*
  • Pain, Postoperative / drug therapy
  • Tramadol / therapeutic use*


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Tramadol