Conference Coverage

Taking the sting out of nail surgery: Postoperative pain pearls



– In a busy clinic it can be hard to find the time to stop, talk, and listen. But doing so will “pay dividends in time spent later – and in reduced complications” of nail surgery, according to Molly A. Hinshaw, MD.

Dr. Molly Hinshaw director of the nail clinic at the University of Wisconsin, Madison

Dr. Molly A. Hinshaw

Dr. Hinshaw, director of the nail clinic at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, shared her clinical pearls for patient care through the entire nail surgery process at the American Academy of Dermatology summer meeting.

“One pearl is the importance of patient education before we start,” Dr. Hinshaw said. Preoperatively, she takes time to talk through the entire surgery and expected postoperative course. Critically, she reassures patients that pain will be controlled; she also reviews in detail what the pharmacologic and nonpharmacologic pain control strategies will be.

In addition, it’s important to address patients’ natural anxiety about what the surgical site will look and feel like and how healing will progress, particularly in those first few days after surgery. “I offer a first dressing change in my practice, either at 24 or 48 hours. This can be very anxiolytic for the patient,” she said.

At the preoperative stage, Dr. Hinshaw also tells patients that, from a healing and pain management standpoint, to make sure they plan “to have a restful 48 hours after surgery.” Her patient instructions for the immediate postoperative period include keeping the limb elevated and avoiding unnecessary activity with the affected limb while the digit, whether a finger or toe, is still anesthetized. To stay on top of the pain, the appropriate oral pain medication should be started once sensation starts to return to the digit. She recommends patients also take a dose of their pain medication at bedtime, as this will help them get a restful night of sleep.

“One thing that I’ve learned over the years is that throbbing and a little bit of swelling after surgery is not uncommon,” said Dr. Hinshaw, who uses elastic self-adherent wrap for the top layer of wound dressings after nail surgery. She tells her patients, “if you’re feeling throbbing, you’re welcome to unwrap it and rewrap it more loosely.” Just giving the patient the ability to find a comfortable level of pressure on the affected digit is often enough to alleviate the throbbing, as opposed to treating that throbbing with pain medication.

Dr. Hinshaw said she’s learned to tailor her postoperative analgesia to the surgery and to the patient. With all patients, she is sure to make medication and dosing choices that take comorbidities and potential drug-drug interactions into account. She does not ask patients to stop anticoagulation before nail procedures.

For phenolization procedures and punch biopsies, she’ll advise patients to use acetaminophen or NSAIDs. Some procedures are going to have a more painful recovery course, said Dr. Hinshaw, so she’ll use an opioid such as hydrocodone with acetaminophen for shave excisions and fusiform longitudinal excisions.

The physician and patient can also plan ahead for a brief course of more potent opioids for some procedures. “Certainly for lateral longitudinal excisions, they will need narcotic pain management for at least 48 hours after surgery,” she noted. “It’s a painful surgery.”

Other procedures that will need more postoperative analgesia include flaps and nail unit grafts, she said. In general, NSAIDs are useful to add after the first 24 hours. In addition, “I always call my patients the day after surgery to see how they’re doing. This helps identify any issues and questions early and is comforting to the patient,” she added.

Dr. Hinshaw disclosed that she has an ownership stake in and sits on the board of directors of Accure Medical.

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