Postoperative Pain and Age: A Retrospective Cohort Association Study

Jacqueline F.M. van Dijk, Ruth Zaslansky, Regina L.M. van Boekel, Juanita M. Cheuk-Alam, Sara J. Baart, Frank J.P.M. Huygen, Mienke Rijsdijk*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

33 Citations (Scopus)


BACKGROUND: As the population ages, the number of elderly people undergoing surgery increases. Literature on the incidence and intensity of postoperative pain in the elderly is conflicting. This study examines associations between age and pain-related patient reported outcomes and perioperative pain management in a dataset of surgical patients undergoing four common surgeries: spinal surgery, hip or knee replacement, or laparoscopic cholecystectomy. Based on the authors' clinical experience, they hypothesize that pain scores are lower in older patients. 

METHODS: In this retrospective cohort, study data were collected between 2010 and 2018 as part of the international PAIN OUT program. Patients filled out the International Pain Outcomes Questionnaire on postoperative day 1. 

RESULTS: A total of 11,510 patients from 26 countries, 59% female, with a mean age of 62 yr, underwent one of the aforementioned types of surgery. Large variation was detected within each age group for worst pain, yet for each surgical procedure, mean scores decreased significantly with age (mean Numeric Rating Scale range, 6.3 to 7.3; β = -0.2 per decade; P ≤ 0.001), representing a decrease of 1.3 Numeric Rating Scale points across a lifespan. The interference of pain with activities in bed, sleep, breathing deeply or coughing, nausea, drowsiness, anxiety, helplessness, opioid administration on the ward, and wish for more pain treatment also decreases with age for two or more of the procedures. Across the procedures, patients reported being in severe pain on postoperative day one 26 to 38% of the time, and pain interfered moderately to severely with movement. 

CONCLUSIONS: The authors' findings indicate that postoperative pain decreases with increasing age. The change is, however, small and of questionable clinical significance. Additionally, there are still too many patients, at any age, undergoing common surgeries who suffer from moderate to severe pain, which interferes with function, supporting the need for tailoring care to the individual patient.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1104-1119
Number of pages16
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021

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