Pain after surgery

June 27, 2012 Kathy Witmer, DNP, ARNP

If you are scheduled to have surgery, it is normal to be concerned about pain you may experience after surgery.

The best time to talk about post-surgical pain is actually before your operation. Make sure you:

  • Talk to your surgeon about your experience with different methods of pain control.
  • Bring a current list of all your medicines and any drug allergies with you to your appointment.
  • Be honest about your alcohol and drug use. If you are abusing alcohol or drugs, you may experience withdrawal from these substances making your postoperative recovery difficult. If you are a recovering from alcohol or drug abuse we can design a pain management plan to reduce the chance for relapse.
  • Ask questions about the post-surgical pain: the severity, how long it will last, how it will be treated, what medications will be used, how they work, and their possible side effects.
  • Discuss any concerns you have about taking pain medications.

Surgical pain is common and should be expected after your procedure. Luckily, modern pain medications and anesthesia can minimize surgical pain. While we cannot eliminate all pain, we want to make you as comfortable as possible. Our pain management goals are simple:

  1. Provide comfort
  2. Promote function
  3. Avoid complications

Good pain control is critical for a successful surgical recovery. If you are comfortable, it will be easier for you to cough, deep breathe and move after surgery. You can avoid complications if you remain physically active during your recovery. You will be encouraged to get out of bed and take several walks each day you are in the hospital and when you go home.

Post-surgical pain control requires balancing the benefits of the pain medications with the risks associated with immobility. The effects of pain medications and pain tolerance vary greatly from one person to another. For this reason, one medication will not be right for everyone.

We generally use a combination of medications to minimize postoperative pain and reduce side effects. Very often this includes a combination of long-acting and short acting opiates, muscle relaxants and Tylenol or Ibuprofen. The most common side effects of pain medications are itching, constipation, nausea and sedation. Itching can be treated with Benadryl as needed. You will be given stool softeners and laxatives to prevent constipation as long as you need pain medication. And we encourage you to take your pain medication with food to avoid nausea.

Pain is a very individual experience. As the body begins to heal, pain should decrease and eventually go away. The duration of post-surgical pain can depend on several factors including a person’s general health, other existing medical problems and cigarette smoking to name a few. Over time, you should have less pain and need less medication. We will start weaning your pain medications two-three weeks after surgery. By 6 weeks, many of you will be off all medications. By 3 months, some of you may be using simple over the counter medications as needed.

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