How to Control Post-Surgery Pain
Postoperative pain mostly falls into the category of acute pain, meaning it will go away and go away fairly quickly. Expect to be asked what your pain is on a scale of 0 to 10. 0 means you feel no pain. 10 out of 10 pain means you are in agony.
Experiencing some pain after surgery is often unavoidable. Our goal is to take it to a tolerable level. Most people tolerate pain level 2-3 and can function, sleep, and take care of their basic needs at that level. You may feel pain after surgery not just at the site of surgery but also muscle pain in the neck, shoulders, back or chest from lying on the operating table. Your throat may feel sore. Moving, sitting up, walking, coughing can cause increased pain at or around the incision site.
One of the most important aspects of pain management is the balance between patient safety and reducing the pain to a tolerable level during postoperative recovery. It is mostly the responsibility of your surgeon but there are ways that you as a patient can help as well.
Be sure to tell your doctor if you are taking pain medication at home on a regular basis and if you are allergic to or cannot tolerate certain pain medications.
- Don’t take more pain medication than needed. If over the counter medication makes pain tolerable, then it is all you need. When you feel your pain levels have gone down, your pain medication dose should decrease, or it should be taken less frequently.
- Do not increase your dose on your own without your physician’s approval. Complication risks are real and can be serious.
- Be steady at pain control. Don’t wait for your pain to be intolerable before taking medication as that makes pain management more difficult. Try to keep the same pain level throughout and always consult with your provider.
- Narcotics like Norco, Percocet etc. can create stomach upset so make sure you take them with food. Most of them contain acetaminophen (Tylenol®) so don’t take any other medications that contain acetaminophen as too much of it can damage your liver.
- Try using alternative methods to improve pain tolerance, such as heating pads/ cold therapy, meditation, listening to soft music, changing position in bed or massage. As always, follow your surgeon’s advice on these as some might not be appropriate. Make sure to get enough rest and if you are having trouble sleeping, talk to your doctor.
Many patients are worried about getting addicted to pain medications and prefer to avoid them all together but doing so can prolong recovery and healing. When properly used, the risk of becoming addicted to pain medication after surgery is small. If you are concerned about addiction or have a history of substance abuse, talk to your doctors so they can closely monitor your care or involve pain management specialist.