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 long-term problems.
On the night of March 28, 1986, Howard Heit's car was struck in a head-on collision. He left the scene of the serious crash thinking how lucky he was that he hadn't been hurt. "And then four to six weeks later, I started noticing twitches in the muscles of my neck and upper back. These progressed to marked spasms of my neck, shoulders, and upper back," he recalls.
The pain never ceased. All day, every day it plagued him. It became difficult for him to walk -- and almost impossible for him to work...
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 Medicine.
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.