Pain control after surgery is a very real concern for many patients.
In reality, most patients who are considering orthopaedic surgery have
already been in pain for quite some time. You may be worried about the
pain you’ll experience after surgery because it’s unknown, whereas the
pain caused by your injury or disease is something you are used to and
something you have grown to understand. With some preparation, you
will be better equipped to deal with the discomfort, pain, and other
associated hurdles after your procedure. Here are a few things to
consider that may help you through the process.
You will have pain after your procedure. This is almost
inevitable and it’s important to come to terms with this before you
move forward. The goal of orthopaedic surgery is to reduce pain and
improve function, but that pain reduction usually comes after a
period of recovery and rehabilitation. Everyone’s pain tolerance and
the way in which they respond to painful stimuli is different.
Having pain doesn’t mean you are weak; it just means you’re human.
Your medical team’s goal will be to help reduce your pain after
surgery, but it most likely won’t be eliminated.
You need to understand your options. Ask your surgeon what
his or her typical pain management protocol is. Many surgeons now
utilise combinations of medication and pain reduction techniques.
More and more surgeons are using non-opioid medications either in
addition to or to replace opioids after surgery. These medications
might include pain relievers such as acetaminophen, non-steroidal
anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs), or even medications that
treat neuropathic (nerve) pain. Other useful pain management
methods might include cryotherapy (icing the surgical area) and
gentle massage of the muscles. However, it is typically recommended
not to massage too close to scars or wounds before they are healed.
When physical therapy is used after surgery, one of its initial
goals is pain reduction. Joints and muscles are designed to move,
and avoiding stiffness can help with short-term and long-term
Opioids for post-op pain control. The thought of taking
opioid medications may be worrisome to you. The opioid epidemic has
garnered much publicity. In general, this awareness of the dangers
of opioids is a good thing. These medications can be dangerous when
not taken as prescribed or if they are relied upon for long-term
pain control. They do have a high potential for addiction. For these
reasons many surgeons are now prescribing them in small quantities
for the initial days after surgery with the intention to wean off
these and transition to non-opioid medications as soon as possible
after surgery. Opioids have other troublesome side effects in some
patients like nausea, vomiting, and itching. Also, you can’t drive
if you have been taking opioids. They impair your reaction time and
can easily make you a danger to yourself and others on the
What if I have been taking opioids even before having
surgery? The effectiveness of the medications your surgeon
prescribes will be lessened if your body is already accustomed to
being on strong pain relievers. There’s not much that can be done to
change that. Ideally, you should reduce or eliminate narcotics
(under your surgeon’s care) before surgery. Opioids may be
appropriate for short-term pain control immediately after
Meditation and mindfulness. You might not be able to
eliminate your pain by wishing it away, but there can be real
benefits to having a calm environment, a clear mind, and taking some
time to meditate before or after surgery. There are many free or
inexpensive smartphone apps that can help guide you. No matter what
you call this peaceful time, make sure you plan for some time to
yourself to think, relax, and rest. A good support system of friends
and family members also can be helpful. The time after surgery is a
good time to steer clear from people or things that cause you stress
In summary, pain is real. But remember, there are many ways to help
you cope with a certain level of discomfort or pain after surgery. As
with any concern, don’t hesitate discussing pain and pain management
with your surgeon prior to surgery.