Complex Regional Pain Syndrome Type 1 (CRPS-1) responds poorly to standard pain treatment. We evaluated if the N-methyl-d-aspartate receptor antagonist S(+)-ketamine improves pain in CRPS-1 patients. Sixty CRPS-1 patients (48 females) with severe pain participated in a double-blind randomized placebo-controlled parallel-group trial. Patients were given a 4.2-day intravenous infusion of low-dose ketamine (n = 30) or placebo (n = 30) using an individualized stepwise tailoring of dosage based on effect (pain relief) and side effects (nausea/vomiting/psychomimetic effects). The primary outcome of the study was the pain score (numerical rating score: 0–10) during the 12-week study period. The median (range) disease duration of the patients was 7.4 (0.1–31.9) years. At the end of infusion, the ketamine dose was 22.2 ± 2.0 mg/h/70 kg. Pain scores over the 12-week study period in patients receiving ketamine were significantly lower than those in patients receiving placebo (P < 0.001).
The lowest pain score was at the end of week 1: ketamine 2.68 ± 0.51, placebo 5.45 ± 0.48. In week 12, significance in pain relief between groups was lost (P = 0.07). Treatment did not cause functional improvement. Patients receiving ketamine more often experienced mild to moderate psychomimetic side effects during drug infusion (76% versus 18%, P < 0.001). In conclusion, in a population of mostly chronic CRPS-1 patients with severe pain at baseline, a multiple day ketamine infusion resulted in significant pain relief without functional improvement. Treatment with ketamine was safe with psychomimetic side effects that were acceptable to most patients.
We report the case of a 39-year-old man with severe pain due to unresectable squamous-cell carcinoma of the maxillary sinus that had invaded cranial bone and had metastasized to the cervical spine. Tolerance to opioids had developed, and high doses of transdermal, continuous intravenous, and epidural opioids did not control his pain. An acute episode of extremely severe head pain was immediately controlled with a subanesthetic dose of ketamine after failure of a stress dose of corticosteroid and intravenous lidocaine. Because the patient was terminally ill and invasive procedures were not options, we controlled his pain using a low-dose ketamine infusion until his death 13 days later. Ketamine may be a good co-analgesic for breakthrough pain and for severe pain caused by terminal cancer when invasive techniques are inappropriate. Its mechanism of action may include reversal of opioid tolerance in addition to an inherent analgesic effect.