If you are going to have surgery, you should expect some pain after the procedure. In addition to pain around the incision site, you may also experience muscle pain from being on an operating table or throat pain from having a breathing tube while under general anesthesia. However, just because it’s normal to experience pain after surgery doesn’t mean you have to suffer through it without any medical assistance.
Before surgery, you and your doctor should discuss your medical history and all the medications you are currently taking so that your doctor can determine which treatment options are safe. You will likely need pain medication while you are in the hospital after surgery, and your doctor may also provide oral medication for you to take when you are recovering at home.
It’s important to take your pain medications exactly as they have been prescribed and to tell your healthcare provider if you are still experiencing pain. Taking prescription pain drugs in safe doses can help you avoid post-surgery complications, recover more quickly, and get back to your day-to-day activities.
Below are several treatment options for pain after surgery. Remember: only you and your doctor can decide what treatment is right for you.
While you are in the hospital, your healthcare provider may recommend patient-controlled analgesia, a type of pain medication that is administered through an IV or epidural catheter. The analgesic provides temporary pain relief, and the patient can control the amount of medication they receive by pressing a button. These patient-controlled systems have built in safety features to ensure that you don’t administer a dangerous dose.
Another type of medication you may receive while in the hospital is a local anesthetic, which can be injected near the incision site to temporarily numb a painful area. The anesthetic works by blocking the nerves that send pain signals to the brain and is highly effective for short-term treatment; however, it may also cause dizziness and some weakness in your legs.
This class of drugs—which includes Vicodin, Percocet, and Dilaudid—is used to help manage moderate to severe pain. Your doctor might prescribe one of these drugs if you are leaving the hospital after having major surgery and are still experiencing a lot of pain. It’s important to take opioids exactly as prescribed, as they can be addictive when taken for a long period of time. As long as you are only using an opioid for short-term pain management, the risk of addiction is relatively low.
Non-opioid analgesics, which include aspirin and NSAIDs like ibuprofen, are used to treat mild to moderate pain or to reduce the dose of an opioid drug you need to manage severe pain. Some of these pain killers are available without a prescription, and the risk of side effects is low. However, you should be careful not to take more than the recommended daily dosage of these drugs, as taking high doses increases your risk for liver damage.
Non-Medication Pain Control
While you are likely to want some form of pain medication while recovering from surgery, there are also non-medication options you can use to help manage your pain. The University of Chicago School of Medicine recommends trying an exercise where you slowly inhale and exhale while imagining a relaxing place for up to 20 minutes at a time. You may also benefit from heat packs, ice packs, or massages, depending on the type of pain you are experiencing. Talk to your doctor to determine other potential non-medication treatments.