Pain Control in the Nuss Procedure: A Prospective, Randomized Trial of Cryoanalgesia vs. Thoracic Epidural

Investigator: Michael Harrison, MD
Sponsor: NIH National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

Location(s): United States


The purpose of this study is to determine whether cryoanalgesia provides better pain control for minimally invasive pectus excavatum repair (the Nuss procedure) than thoracic epidural.

Pain control is a major challenge for physicians, who must ensure appropriate and effective pain control for their patients, while remaining mindful of the many negative effects of opioid dependence and addiction. Nowhere is there a more pressing need than in children and young adults, who are at high risk for drug abuse, and in post-operative care, since post-operative opioid use can be a starting point for long-term pain issues. Postoperative pain control in the Nuss procedure, minimally invasive repair of the congenital chest wall deformity known as pectus excavatum, remains a significant problem for the 3000 patients who undergo this procedure each year, mostly adolescents and young adults. Many multimodal analgesic regimens have been tried, but optimal treatment remains unknown. This study will test a novel and promising strategy of using intra-operative cryoanalgesia during the Nuss procedure. Cryoanalgesia is the localized, temporary freezing of peripheral nerves, which is performed at the time of the Nuss procedure. The study is a 20-subject prospective, randomized pilot trial comparing cryoanalgesia to thoracic epidural analgesia for post-operative pain control in patients undergoing the Nuss procedure. Subjects will be recruited from patients already scheduled for a Nuss procedure at our institution, and will undergo 1:1 randomization to either cryoanalgesia or thoracic epidural analgesia for perioperative pain control. During their hospitalization, patients' opiate usage will be prospectively recorded, and pain will be assessed twice per day. Upon discharge, patients will maintain a log of their opiate use, and will return to clinic at 2 weeks, 1 month, 3 months, and 1 year after Nuss procedure for post-operative assessment. Primary outcome is length of perioperative hospitalization, an objective measure that synthesizes many different aspects of a procedure and its subsequent post-operative course, including pain control. Secondary outcomes are post-operative narcotic usage and direct cost of perioperative hospitalization. Side effects of both interventions will also be assessed. This will be the first systematic investigation of cryoanalgesia for local nerve block in a thoracoscopic procedure, and the first study involving its use in adolescents and young adults. The results will have direct application for those undergoing the Nuss procedure to repair pectus excavatum. Investigators will also delineate a reproducible protocol for delivering cryoanalgesia thoracoscopically, to ensure others can safely and effectively use this method if it proves beneficial. Although the focus is on the small subset of patients who undergo the Nuss procedure, if a standardized approach to cryoanalgesia delivery in a thoracoscopic procedure has a positive effect on patient outcomes and cost of hospitalization, the technique could be applied to a variety of surgical procedures, as well as for other neuropathic pain.