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J Pain. 2007 Jul;8(7):533-48. Epub 2007 Apr 16.

Burn injury pain: the continuing challenge.

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Department of Physiological Nursing, School of Nursing, University of California-San Francisco, San Francisco, California 94143, USA.


The development of more effective methods of relieving pain associated with burn injury is a major unmet medical need. Not only is acute burn injury pain a source of immense suffering, but it has been linked to debilitating chronic pain and stress-related disorders. Although pain management guidelines and protocols have been developed and implemented, unrelieved moderate-to-severe pain continues to be reported after burn injury. One reason for this is that the intensity of pain associated with wound care and rehabilitation therapy, the major source of severe pain in this patient population, varies widely over the 3 phases of burn recovery, making it difficult to estimate analgesic requirements. The effects of opioids, the most commonly administered analgesics for burn injury procedural pain, are difficult to gauge over the course of burn recovery because the need for an opioid may change rapidly, resulting in the overmedication or undermedication of burn-injured patients. Understanding the mechanisms that contribute to the intensity and variability of burn injury pain over time is crucial to its proper management. We provide an overview of the types of pain associated with a burn injury, describe how these different types of pain interfere with the phases of burn recovery, and summarize pharmacologic pain management strategies across the continuum of burn care. We conclude with a discussion and suggestions for improvement. Rational management, based on the underlying mechanisms that contribute to the intensity and variability of burn injury pain, is in its infancy. The paucity of information highlights the need for research that explores and advances the identification of mechanisms of acute and chronic burn injury pain.


Researchers continue to report that burn pain is undertreated. This review examines burn injury pain management across the phases of burn recovery, emphasizing 3 types of pain that require separate assessment and management. It provides insights and suggestions for future research directions to address this significant clinical problem.

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