Curative treatment for locally advanced head and neck tumours often includes reconstructive surgery using a microvascular free flap. Effective recuperation is essential but may be impeded by postoperative donor site pain. The aim of this study was to evaluate the effects of a continuous popliteal block on postoperative pain after fibular graft harvesting.
In this randomized double-blind placebo-controlled study adult patients scheduled for reconstructive head and neck surgery with a microvascular free fibular graft received an indwelling popliteal nerve block catheter and were randomized to receive continuous levobupivacaine/ropivacaine or placebo during the first postoperative week. Primary outcome was postoperative extremity pain assessed using the numerated rating scale (NRS). Secondary outcomes included opioid consumption.
In total 24 patients were included. The median (median, IQR [range]) postoperative extremity NRS scores was lower in the local anaesthetic (LA) group (2, 0-3 [0-10]) compared to the placebo group (2, 1-4 [0-10]), p = 0.008. The LA group also experienced fewer episodes of breakthrough pain, defined as NRS ≥ 4 (17% vs 33% of observations), p = 0.009. Furthermore, median (median, IQR [range]) opioid consumption the first postoperative week was lower in the LA group (109 mg, 74-134 [19-611]) compared to the placebo group (202 mg, 135-241 [78-749]), p = 0.010. No complications attributed to the blocks were observed.
Continuous popliteal block significantly reduced postoperative extremity pain and opioid consumption in patients undergoing fibular graft harvesting for head and neck reconstructive surgery.

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