Chronic postsurgical pain can severely impair patient health and quality of life. This systematic review update evaluated the effectiveness of systemic drugs to prevent chronic postsurgical pain.

The authors included double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized controlled trials including adults that evaluated perioperative systemic drugs. Studies that evaluated same drug(s) administered similarly were pooled. The primary outcome was the proportion reporting any pain at 3 or more months postsurgery.


The authors identified 70 new studies and 40 from 2013. Most evaluated ketamine, pregabalin, gabapentin, IV lidocaine, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and corticosteroids. Some meta-analyses showed statistically significant—but of unclear clinical relevance—reductions in chronic postsurgical pain prevalence after treatment with pregabalin, IV lidocaine, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Meta-analyses with more than three studies and more than 500 participants showed no effect of ketamine on prevalence of any pain at 6 months when administered for 24 h or less (risk ratio, 0.62 [95% CI, 0.36 to 1.07]; prevalence, 0 to 88% ketamine; 0 to 94% placebo) or more than 24 h (risk ratio, 0.91 [95% CI, 0.74 to 1.12]; 6 to 71% ketamine; 5 to 78% placebo), no effect of pregabalin on prevalence of any pain at 3 months (risk ratio, 0.88 [95% CI, 0.70 to 1.10]; 4 to 88% pregabalin; 3 to 80% placebo) or 6 months (risk ratio, 0.78 [95% CI, 0.47 to 1.28]; 6 to 68% pregabalin; 4 to 69% placebo) when administered more than 24 h, and an effect of pregabalin on prevalence of moderate/severe pain at 3 months when administered more than 24 h (risk ratio, 0.47 [95% CI, 0.33 to 0.68]; 0 to 20% pregabalin; 4 to 34% placebo). However, the results should be interpreted with caution given small study sizes, variable surgical types, dosages, timing and method of outcome measurements in relation to the acute pain trajectory in question, and preoperative pain status.


Despite agreement that chronic postsurgical pain is an important topic, extremely little progress has been made since 2013, likely due to study designs being insufficient to address the complexities of this multifactorial problem.

Editor’s Perspective
What We Already Know about This Topic
  • Chronic postsurgical pain is a common problem that can severely affect a patient’s quality of life
  • Many medications have been examined for their utility in preventing chronic postsurgical pain, but we do not understand which may be effective
What This Article Tells Us That Is New
  • Seventy randomized controlled trials were identified published since a previous meta-analysis involving drugs to prevent chronic postsurgical pain
  • Overall effects of the drugs were small and of uncertain clinical relevance