Postoperative pain relief
Pain that occurs after surgery is an important concern. Before your surgery, you and your surgeon may have discussed how much pain you should expect and how it will be managed.
Several factors determine how much pain you have and how to manage it:
Controlling your pain is important for your recovery. Good pain control is needed so you can get up and begin to move around. This is important because:
There are many types of pain medicines. Depending on the surgery and your overall health, you may receive a single medicine or a combination of medicines.
Studies show that people who use pain medicine after surgery to control pain often use fewer pain medicines than those who try to avoid pain medicine.
Your job as a patient is to tell your health care providers when you are having pain and if the medicines you are receiving control your pain. Providers will always be busy, but do not worry about bothering them. Speak up. In the end, you are the one in control of your pain.
Right after surgery, you may receive pain medicines directly into your veins through an intravenous (IV) line. This line runs through a pump. The pump is set to give you a certain amount of pain medicine.
Often, you can push a button to give yourself more pain relief when you need it. This is called patient controlled anesthesia (PCA) because you manage how much extra medicine you receive. It is programmed so you cannot give yourself too much.
Epidural pain medicines are delivered through a soft tube (catheter). The tube is inserted into your back into the small space just outside the spinal cord. The pain medicine can be given to you continuously or in small doses through the tube.
You may come out of surgery with this catheter already in place. Or a doctor (anesthesiologist) inserts the catheter into your lower back while you lay on your side in the hospital bed after your surgery.
Risks of epidural blocks are rare but may include:
Narcotic pain medicine taken as pills or given as a shot may provide enough pain relief. You may receive this medicine right away after surgery. More often, you receive it when you no longer need epidural or continuous IV medicine.
Ways you receive pills or shots include:
Most pills or shots provide relief for 4 to 6 hours or longer. If the medicines do not manage your pain well enough, ask your provider about:
American Society of Anesthesiologists Task Force on Acute Pain Management. Practice guidelines for acute pain management in the perioperative setting: an updated report by the American Society of Anesthesiologists Task Force on Acute Pain Management. Anesthesiology. 2012;116:248-73. PMID: 22227789
Hanna MN, Ouanes JP, Tomas VG. Postoperative pain and other acute pain syndromes. In: Benzon HT, Rathmell JP, Wu CL, Turk DC, Argoff CE, Hurley RW, eds. Practical Management of Pain. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2014:chap 18.
Sherwood ER, Williams CG, Prough DS. Anesthesiology principles, pain management, and conscious sedation. In: Townsend CM Jr, Beauchamp RD, Evers BM, Mattox KL, eds. Sabiston Textbook of Surgery. 18th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 16.
Last reviewed on: 7/26/2015
Reviewed by: Dale Mueller, MD, Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgeon, HeartCare Midwest; Chairman Department of Cardiovascular Medicine and Surgery, OSF St. Francis Medical Center; and Clinical Associate Professor of Surgery, University of Illinois, Peoria, IL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.