Predicting long-term postsurgical pain by examining the evolution of acute pain.
Increased acute postoperative pain intensity has been associated with the development of persistent postsurgical pain (PPP) in mechanistic and clinical investigations, but it remains unclear which aspects of acute pain explain this linkage.We analyzed clinical postoperative pain intensity assessments using symbolic aggregate approximations (SAX), a graphical way of representing changes between pain states from one patient evaluation to the next, to visualize and understand how pain intensity changes across sequential assessments are associated with the intensity of postoperative pain at 1 (M1) and 6 (M6) months after surgery. SAX-based acute pain transition patterns were compared using cosine similarity, which indicates the degree to which patterns mirror each other.This single-center prospective cohort study included 364 subjects. Patterns of acute postoperative pain sequential transitions differed between the “None” and “Severe” outcomes at M1 (cosine similarity 0.44) and M6 (cosine similarity 0.49). Stratifications of M6 outcomes by preoperative pain intensity, sex, age group, surgery type, and catastrophizing showed significant heterogeneity of pain transition patterns within and across strata. Severe-to-severe acute pain transitions were common, but not exclusive, in patients with moderate or severe pain intensity at M6.Clinically, these results suggest that individual pain-state transitions, even within patient or procedural strata associated with PPP, may not alone offer good predictive information regarding PPP. Longitudinal observation in the immediate postoperative period and consideration of patient- and surgery-specific factors may help indicate which patients are at increased risk of PPP.