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Pain Management After Surgery

Treating pain helps you heal

After any surgery, you can expect to have some pain. But if pain does not get better with pain medicine, there may be a more serious problem. Your healthcare team will ask often about your pain because they want you to be comfortable. It's important that you tell them if their efforts to control your pain aren't working.

With today's new and improved pain medicines, there's no reason for anyone to deal with severe pain. By effectively treating pain, you'll heal faster. You'll also be able to go home and resume normal activities sooner.

Discuss pain control before surgery

It's important to discuss pain control options with your healthcare provider before you have surgery. Talk about methods that have worked well or not worked well for you in the past. Also, discuss:

  • Concerns you have about medicines

  • Allergies you have to any medicines

  • Side effects that might occur

  • Prescription medicines, over-the-counter medicines, and herbal supplements that you take

  • The best way of giving pain medicine to you, such as by mouth (orally) or through an IV

Pain medicines are given in several ways. Ask which of these will be options for you:

  • On request. You can ask the nurse for pain medicine as you need it.

  • At set times. Instead of waiting until you have pain, you are given pain medicine at regular times throughout the day to keep the pain under control.

  • Patient-controlled analgesia (PCA). You control the pain medicine by pressing a button to inject medicine at controlled amounts and times through an IV tube in the vein.

  • Patient-controlled epidural analgesia (PCEA). This provides continuous pain relief. A thin tube is inserted in the spine, and when you press a button, the pain medicine goes through the tube into your back.

Your healthcare team will want to know how your pain medicine is working and if you are still having pain. Your healthcare provider will change the medicine or dose if needed.

Types of pain relief medicines used after surgery

How much pain you have after surgery depends on many factors. This includes the type of surgery you had and your own limits for pain. Discuss your options with your healthcare provider, including the types of pain medicines and their side effects.

Some of the pain relief medicines after surgery may include:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Some examples of this type of medicine are aspirin, naproxen, and ibuprofen. These are most often used for mild or moderate pain. You can't get addicted to NSAIDs. NSAIDs may be enough to control pain. NSAIDs can interfere with blood clotting and may cause nausea, vomiting, stomach, or kidney problems.

  • Opioids. Opioids include medicines like morphine, oxycodone, hydrocodone, and codeine. They are most often used for acute pain and may be given right after surgery. These medicines can be safely used for short periods. If they are taken for longer periods or not as prescribed, there's a greater risk that you may become dependent on them. Opioids may cause dizziness, nausea, vomiting, constipation, or itching and other skin rashes.

  • Local anesthetics. Many types of local anesthesia are available. These medicines block the sending of nerve impulses. They are often given for severe pain in a limited area of the body, such as the incision site. Several injections may be needed to control the pain. But too much anesthetic can have side effects. In a few cases, the local anesthetic can be slowly sent with a pump into the surgical site for pain relief.

  • Acetaminophen. This pain reliever is unlikely to cause the stomach irritation that may be linked to aspirin, naproxen sodium, ketoprofen, and even ibuprofen. It may be less likely to interact with other medicines you may be taking. But the active ingredients are also found in some other nonprescription pain relievers. Some pain medicines have acetaminophen plus an opioid. It's very important to know how much acetaminophen you are taking. It can cause liver damage if you take too much or have liver problems. 

Other types of pain relief

Explore breathing, meditation, guided imagery, and other relaxation exercises to help control pain. Talk with your healthcare provider for more information.

Online Medical Reviewer: L Renee Watson MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Marianne Fraser MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Turley Jr PA-C
Date Last Reviewed: 1/1/2024
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