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Managing Pain After Surgery

Dealing with post-surgery pain begins before your operation.

Start Before Surgery continued...

Many people, he says, haven’t discussed possible medication side effects with their physician and are caught off guard. Often, side effects will cause people to stop taking their medication. This may be a mistake.

"Just because you had a side effect with one medication doesn’t mean we can’t try another that has fewer side effects," Fraifeld says.

Nausea, in particular, presents a problem for many people taking pain medication. Fraifeld advises people who often get nausea to inform their surgeons ahead of time that that is a likely problem for them.

"There are medications we can put people on ahead of time to reduce [nausea]… or we can change the anesthetic technique entirely," Fraifeld says.

Develop a plan for when you go home.  Ask your doctor about what can be done to ensure that your pain will be properly addressed once you leave the hospital. This is particularly important to your long-term recovery.

"Unfortunately, there are still a lot of doctors who don’t adequately treat post-operative pain," Fraifeld says. "People get pain medication that lasts three, four, or six hours at most, and are told to take it twice a day. That’s clearly inadequate." 

After your surgery, it’s important that you communicate openly with your doctors and nurses about what you’re feeling while you recover.

Talk about your pain. Now is not the time to tough it out. If you have pain -- whether it's at the site of the incision or elsewhere in your body -- tell your doctors and nurses. They  will be better able to keep you comfortable if you are very descriptive about where and how much it hurts.  

Stay ahead of your pain. A common mistake people make, according to Fraifeld, is waiting too long to take pain medication. By the time you’re in pain, you’re starting from behind the eight ball. "It takes a lot more medicine to control pain after it’s started as opposed to starting it ahead of time," he says.

Stick to the medication schedule set by the doctor.  That will keep medication flowing through your system and your level of pain at a more even and manageable level.

Conditions that Complicate Pain Management

Pre-existing medical conditions can complicate pain management after surgery. According to Fraifeld, there are a few conditions that commonly interfere with post-surgical pain management.

Chronic pain

If you have a chronic pain condition, your body may be under additional stress because following surgery you’ll likely feel the pain you’ve been experiencing, as well as pain associated with the surgery. 

In addition, people with chronic pain conditions often take medication to manage it. Long-term use of pain medication can lead to medication tolerance, meaning the drugs don’t work as well as they once did to block pain and that greater dosages are needed to get the same effect. This makes post-surgery discomfort much more difficult to manage. With prior knowledge of your condition, Fraifeld says, your doctor has the opportunity to coordinate with other care providers managing your chronic pain and to choose medications that will help to keep you comfortable.

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