Opioid sparing effects of the bupivacaine pleural catheter in surgical decompression of the thoracic outlet

Published:September 01, 2022DOI:


      • Rib resection in TOS can result in significant postoperative pain
      • Anesthetic infusion pleural catheter placement reduces postoperative opioid use
      • Anesthetic catheter use during hospitalization reduces discharge opioid prescribing
      • Anesthetic catheters should be the primary pain treatment after rib resection in TOS



      Rib resection in thoracic outlet decompression can result in significant postoperative pain requiring high levels of opioid medications. We evaluated the impact of a bupivacaine infusing pleural catheter on postoperative pain and opioid usage in patients undergoing rib resection for thoracic outlet syndrome. We hypothesized that delivery of local anesthetic via the pleural catheter would improve postoperative pain control compared to standard multimodal analgesia, and that the use of the catheter would decrease opioid use during the index hospitalization and prescriptions for opioid pain medications at discharge.


      We conducted a single-center retrospective cohort study of 26 patients who underwent rib resection for thoracic outlet decompression. Primary outcome was opioid consumption during the index hospitalization, measured in morphine milligram equivalents (MME). Secondary outcomes were MME prescribed at discharge and pain scores during the index hospitalization before and after the pleural drain and pleural catheter were removed.


      Patients in the bupivacaine infusion pleural catheter group (n=11) had significantly lower milligram morphine equivalent (MME) usage during the index hospitalization (22.5 [1.9, 65.6] vs. 119.8 [76.5, 167.4]), and significantly lower MME prescribed at discharge (0 [0, 37.5] vs. 225 [183, 315]), compared to standard multimodal analgesia in controls (n=15). Only 3 patients in the bupivacaine pleural catheter group were discharged with any opioid prescriptions (27%), compared to 14 patients in the control group (93%). There was no difference in postoperative pain scores between groups before or after removal of the pleural drain, which was placed in all cases (p=0.31 and p=0.76, respectively).


      Intraoperative placement of a bupivacaine infusion pleural catheter significantly reduced opioid use during the index hospitalization and opioid prescribing at discharge. Anesthetic infusion pleural catheters should be the treatment modality of choice for postoperative pain management in patients undergoing thoracic outlet decompression.


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