Association between postoperative complications and lingering post-surgical pain: an observational cohort study

Mark Willingham, Govind Rangrass, Caitlin Curcuru, Arbi Ben Abdallah, Troy S. Wildes, Sherry McKinnon, Alex Kronzer, Anshuman Sharma, Dan Helsten, Bruce Hall, Michael S. Avidan, Simon Haroutounian

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Background: Post-surgical pain that lingers beyond the initial few-week period of tissue healing is a major predictor of pain chronification, which leads to substantial disability and new persistent opioid analgesic use. We investigated whether postoperative medical complications increase the risk of lingering post-surgical pain. Methods: The study population consisted of patients undergoing diverse elective surgical procedures in an academic referral centre in the USA, between September 2013 and May 2017. Multivariable logistic regression, adjusting for confounding variables and patient-specific risk factors, was used to test for an independent association between any major postoperative complication and functionally limiting lingering pain 1–3 months after surgery, as obtained from patient self-reports. Results: The cohort included 11 986 adult surgical patients; 10 562 with complete data. At least one complication (cardiovascular, respiratory, renal/gastrointestinal, wound, thrombotic, or neural) was reported by 13.3% (95% confidence interval: 12.7–14.0) of patients, and 19.7% (19.0–20.5%) reported functionally limiting lingering post-surgical pain. After adjusting for known risk factors, the patients were twice as likely (odds ratio: 2.04; 1.78–2.35) to report lingering post-surgical pain if they also self-reported a postoperative complication. Experiencing a complication was also independently predictive of lingering post-surgical pain (odds ratio: 1.95; 1.26–3.04) when complication data were extracted from the National Surgical Quality Improvement Program registry, instead of being obtained from patient self-report. Conclusions: Medical complications were associated with a two-fold increase in functionally limiting pain 1–3 months after surgery. Understanding the mechanisms that link complications to pathological persistence of pain could help develop future approaches to prevent persistent post-surgical pain.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)214-221
Number of pages8
JournalBritish Journal of Anaesthesia
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • chronic post-surgical pain
  • lingering post-surgical pain
  • medical complications
  • pain
  • postoperative complications

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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