Patients given ice packs for the first 24 hours after major abdominal surgeries reported less pain and needed fewer narcotic painkillers, according to a new U.S. study.
“We aren’t talking about saying to a patient, here is some ice and then cut off all their pain medication. The ice was only meant to increase the patient care,” Dr. Viraj Master told Reuters Health.
Master, a urologist and professor at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, led the study. He said post-operative pain is an unavoidable consequence of major surgery. Although you can make it better with pain medication, those drugs are not without side effects like constipation, drowsiness and even dependence.
“The idea was to keep patients out of pain but not have them suffer from using too many narcotics,” he said. “The physician could give the patient any medication he wanted, we just added the ice.”
Using ice as a treatment for surgical wounds, known as cryotherapy, is not new, Master said. The cold reduces pain by reducing inflammation and swelling, which lets more oxygen flow to cells, he said. At the same time, it slows down the metabolism of a cell so that less oxygen is needed. It also makes the nerve endings less sensitive to the pain.
Cryotherapy is commonly used after orthopedic and hernia procedures, Master and his coauthors write in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons. They wanted to see if it could help patients after major surgeries too.
The researchers recruited 55 patients scheduled for major abdominal operations, mostly to remove cancers of the liver, pancreas, colon and other organs, then randomly assigned them to two groups. The 27 patients in the cryotherapy group would get ice for their wounds after their procedure while the 28 assigned to the comparison group would get no ice.
Immediately after surgery, members of the cryotherapy group were given their ice pack to wear over their wound for a full 24 hours. Nurses kept the patients supplied with fresh ice packs during that time.
After the first 24 hours, the patients could use the ice packs only when they wanted to.
For the three days following their surgeries, the patients rated their pain level twice a day on a scale of 0 to 10. Zero meant no pain, and 10 meant the worst pain imaginable. Their use of narcotic painkillers was also recorded during that period.
There was no significant difference in how long