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Treating pain on skin graft donor sites: Review and clinical recommendations

Sarthak Sinha, Amanda J Schreiner, Jeff Biernaskie, Duncan Nickerson, Vincent A Gabriel
Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery 2017, 83 (5): 954-964
Split-thickness skin grafting is the most common reconstructive procedure in managing burn injuries. Harvesting split-thickness skin creates a new partial thickness wound referred to as the donor site. Pain at the donor site is reported to be one of the most distressing symptoms during the early postoperative period. Here, we (a) identify strategies for managing donor site pain, (b) assess the quality of individual studies, and (c) formulate evidence-based recommendations based on the amount and consistency of evidence. Our analysis revealed five distinct approaches to minimize donor site pain. These include: continuous subcutaneous local anesthetic infusion (three studies), subcutaneous anesthetic injection (five studies), topical agents (six studies), nonpharmacological interventions (three studies), and wound dressings (18 studies). Available randomized control trials typically evaluated pain on standardized scales (i.e. Visual Analog Scale, Numerical Rating Scale), and compared the experimental group with standard care. Recommended treatments include: (a) subcutaneous anesthetic injection of adrenaline-lidocaine; (b) ice application; (c) topical agents, such as lidocaine and bupivacaine; and (d) hydrocolloid- and polyurethane-based wound dressings accompanied with fibrin sealant. Methodologically sound randomized control trials examining the efficacy of modified tumescent solution, ropivacaine, plasma therapy, noncontact ultrasound, and morphine gels are lacking and should be a priority for future research.

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