Hearing your doctor utter the words, "We’re going to have to operate," can
send a shiver down your spine. Immediately, questions about the seriousness of
your condition, the procedure itself, and the likelihood that it will cure what
ails you flood the mind. Then, there is the prospect of post-surgery pain. How
badly is this going to hurt?
The bad news is that some pain is an inevitable companion to most types of
surgery. The good news is that there are many highly effective medications to
keep post-surgical pain under control. In addition to the benefit of greater
comfort, experts say well-controlled pain can speed recovery and prevent
Maryann Lowry was 42 years old in 1995, when she woke up one morning with severe pelvic pain. She was diagnosed with vulvodynia -- which literally just means severe pain in the vulvar area. Today, 14 years later, she says that she’s “95% recovered” -- but the many years of dealing with chronic pain took its toll on her relationships, her personal life, and of course, her sex life.
“I thought, how am I going to keep my marriage together if I can’t have sex? It was more of a gift that I tried to give...
In order to make sure you’re getting the best possible treatment for your
post-surgical pain, experts advise taking an active role and keeping the
channels of communication open between you and your doctor -- starting
before your operation.
Start Before Surgery
The time to talk with your surgeon and anesthesiologist about how your pain
will be managed after surgery is during pre-surgery testing, not after the
procedure has occurred, says Michel Dubois, MD, director of research and
education and professor of clinical anesthesiology at the NYU School of
Here are some important items to discuss with your doctor before making your
way to the hospital:
Tell them about everything you're taking. Your doctor
needs to know about all supplements, prescription drugs, and over-the-counter
medications you take, in order to prevent dangerous drug interactions.
Ask how much pain to expect and how long will it last. Everyone
handles pain differently. Still, each type of surgery generally involves a
certain level and type of pain.
For instance, Eduardo M. Fraifeld, MD, president of the American Academy of
Pain Medicine, says that following back surgery people commonly experience a
lot of muscle spasms. Abdominal surgery, on the other hand, typically causes
cramping pain as the bowels work to get back to normal.
It’s useful to know ahead of time what is typical for the kind of surgery
you’re undergoing and how long you can expect it to last. Being prepared for
what’s to come may help you feel less anxious, particularly if the pain you
experience is in line with what you were told to expect. And if your pain is
significantly more intense or longer lasting than what you and your doctor
discussed, you’ll know to bring it to his or her attention.
Learn about possible side effects of pain medication and what you can do
about them. One of the problems with opioids, a commonly used class of
post-surgery pain medications, is that they have side effects, Fraifeld says.
"Not just drowsiness and sedation, but you’ve got nausea, urinary retention,
and constipation, which cause a lot of other significant effects and prolongs