BACKGROUND: Moderate to severe pain after total knee arthroplasty often interferes with postoperative rehabilitation and delays discharge from hospital. The present study examined the effects of a four-day postoperative gabapentin (GBP) regimen versus placebo on opioid consumption, pain scores and knee flexion, as well as adverse effects, after total knee arthroplasty.METHODS: After obtaining research ethics board approval and informed consent, 40 patients were enrolled in a randomized, single-blind, placebo-controlled, open-label study. Patients were assigned to one of five groups – preoperative placebo/postoperative placebo (G1), preoperative GBP 600 mg/postoperative placebo (G2), preoperative GBP 600 mg/postoperative GBP 100 mg three times per day (G3), preoperative GBP 600 mg/postoperative GBP 200 mg three times per day (G4) and preoperative GBP 600 mg/postoperative GBP 300 mg three times per day (G5). Postoperative GBP or placebo was continued for four days after surgery. Two hours before surgery, all patients received celecoxib 400 mg. Based on the above groupings, patients in G1 received placebo medication, whereas patients in G2, G3, G4 and G5 received gabapentin 600 mg 2 h preoperatively. All patients received femoral and sciatic nerve blocks, followed by spinal anesthesia. Beginning in the postanesthetic care unit, all patients received a regimen of celecoxib 200 mg every 12 h for four days and a patient-controlled morphine analgesia pump for 48 h.RESULTS: Thirty-six patients (G1, n=7; G2, n=7; G3, n=8; G4, n=7; G5, n=7) completed the study. Data were analyzed by one-way ANOVA followed by a contrast comparing patients who received postoperative GBP (G3, G4 and G5) (n=22) with patients who received placebo postoperatively (G1 and G2) (n=14). Patients who received GBP postoperatively used significantly less patient-controlled morphine analgesia at 24 h, 36 h and 48 h (P<0.05). The postoperative GBP patients had significantly better active assisted knee flexion on postoperative days 2 and 3, with a trend toward better flexion on postoperative day 4. Patients who received GBP postoperatively reported less pruritus than patients who received placebo. There were no differences in pain scores.CONCLUSIONS: These results support the use of GBP in the acute postoperative period. Further trials are needed to delineate the optimal dose, timing and duration of GBP use following surgery.