Manage Pain After Surgery

Medically Reviewed by Tyler Wheeler, MD on November 17, 2022
3 min read

Pain is common after some surgeries. But successfully managing it after surgery does more than just keep you comfortable -- it can also speed up your recovery time.

Staying ahead of pain helps you heal because it can:

            • Ease your stress
            • Make it easier to move your body and promote blood flow
            • Lower your odds of complications

Luckily, there are many options out there to help curb and control post-procedure pain. The key is being proactive and open about how you’re feeling, so your medical team can get you the relief you need.

Post-surgery pain management begins even before you’re wheeled into an OR. Have a conversation with your doctor, so you know exactly what to expect after your procedure. In addition to pain in the body part that was operated on, you may also have pain:

  • In your muscles, from the position you were in during the procedure
  • When you move
  • In your throat, especially if you were intubated

You may also have anxiety and depression, which can also slow healing.

Find out which pain medications are available to you. You'll also need to know whether your doctor will give them to you, or you’ll take them as needed on your own. Talk about any pain you already have, so you can keep track of which discomforts are related to your surgery and which may not be.

It’s also good to let your doctor know how you’ve handled pain in the past. Knowing your options before the hurt comes can help give you a better sense of control over it once you’re in recovery.

The type and dose of pain relief you use will depend on what kind of surgery you have. You may take one or you may take a combo of meds. Your doctor will figure out the best plan for you.

Common choices include:

Local anesthetics like lidocaine and bupivacaine. They block the nerves that send pain signals to your brain. You often get this kind of medication before surgery so you don’t feel pain during the procedure. But it can be used after surgery, too. You get it through a shot or a small tube into your body part that was operated on.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like:

  • Celecoxib (Celebrex)
  • Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin)
  • Naproxen sodium (Aleve)

These drugs you take by mouth can ease swelling and pain, but they can also upset your stomach and make you dizzy.

Non-opioid analgesics like acetaminophen (Tylenol) have very few side effects, but they may not be a good choice if you have liver problems. You take them in pill or liquid form by mouth.

Opioids like:

  • Codeine
  • Fentanyl
  • Hydrocodone with acetaminophen (Vicodin)
  • Hydromorphone
  • Morphine
  • Oxycodone
  • Oxycodone with acetaminophen (Percocet)
  • Oxymorphone
  • Tramadol

These are the strongest drugs you can take for pain relief. You might get them in the hospital or be prescribed them after surgery. You can get addicted to them, which can lead to drug misuse.

They can work best for severe post-surgery pain, but they come with many side effects, including:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Itching
  • Drowsiness
  • Constipation

There are also mental and physical practices you can do to lessen your discomfort. Nondrug pain relief options include:

Guided imagery/relaxation: With the help of a trained coach, you can focus on mental images or listen to music or other sounds that bring you peace and calm.

Hot/cold therapy: Ask your doctor if using heat or ice on the painful parts of your body could help ease swelling and pain.

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS): This is a battery-powered device you attach to your body that sends low levels of electricity into the area where you hurt. You do it for about 5-15 minutes. It creates a warm, tingly feeling.

Doctors think it works because it floods your nerves with a different sensation and makes them temporarily unable to feel pain, or changes the way your brain recognizes pain. It may also raise the amount of endorphins in your body -- the “feel-good,” pain-killing chemicals.