Pain Management

Discuss previous experiences with pain. Before surgery, talk to your doctor about your experience with different methods of pain control. Mention what worked for you and what didn't.

Talk about chronic pain. If you have chronic pain, you'll likely have to deal with that pain in addition to the post-surgical pain. Your body may be less sensitive to pain medication if you're taking medications for chronic pain. This is a phenomenon called tolerance. Discuss this in detail with your surgeon before surgery.

Make a list of your medications. Include all prescription and over-the-counter medications, plus any supplements or herbs you've taken in the past month. Your surgeon and anesthesia provider needs to know about anything that might interact with post-surgical pain medications. Include dosages and how many times a day you take them.

Be honest about your alcohol and drug use. Tell your doctor if you're a recovering alcoholic or have a history of other addiction. If so, you can plan for pain control that minimizes the risk of relapse. If you're currently misusing alcohol or drugs even those that have been prescribed for you, let your doctor know. Withdrawing from these substances can be difficult, and the post-surgical period is not the time to try it.

Ask questions. Find out how severe the pain typically is after this type of surgery, and how long it lasts. What kind of pain medications will be given before and after surgery? What are the possible side effects of these medications? What can be done to minimize side effects?

Discuss your concerns about pain medications. If you're afraid of side effects or overdosing on pain medications, talk to your doctor. He or she can help you understand strategies to safely manage your pain.

Coping with pain after surgery doesn't have to mean taking more pain medication. Using a combination of these strategies to control surgery pain can be very helpful and can provide better pain relief than medication alone.

Stay ahead of the pain. Getting ahead of the pain means not waiting until your pain is severe before you take your medication. If you wait until your pain is severe or increasing, it will be more difficult to control your pain, especially after waiting for the medication to be absorbed by your body and take effect. In the days immediately following your surgery, try taking your pain medication as prescribed by your surgeon. As your pain improves, you can extend the time between doses until you are able to quit using it altogether.

Consider non-prescription pain medication. You don't necessarily have to choose between taking prescription pain medication or no pain medicine. You can use over-the-counter pain medication, with your surgeon's approval, to take care of pain that is not severe enough to warrant prescription drugs, but not improved enough for no pain medication.

Get enough sleep. Sleep is one of the most important things you can do to control your pain. Adequate sleep improves your ability to cope with pain, speeds healing, and can actually reduce pain. The trick is to reduce your pain enough to sleep well, which may require medication along with proper positioning.

Increase physical activity slowly. What feels good when you are doing it may not feel very good a few hours later. When you are recovering from surgery, feeling better may seem like an invitation to return to your normal activities. Unfortunately, it is very easy to do too much, which increases your pain level and makes it difficult to move forward with your physical activity. Increase your physical activity slowly - no more than a few extra minutes per day - until you have truly recovered from your procedure and are able to return your full potential.

Don't sit too long. Sitting or lying in one place for too long can lead to more pain. Getting up and walking every hour or two during the day helps keep you from getting stiff and offers the added benefit of decreasing the risk of developing blood clots after your procedure. Many people avoid walking because the move from sitting to standing can be a painful one. If your pain is so severe that you are unable to complete simple tasks such as standing and walking, you should consult your surgeon.

What would you normally do? Just because you had surgery does not mean the ways that you typically control pain won't work. For example, if you find that when you have a normal ache or pain, your pain responds better to ibuprofen (Advil) than naproxen (Aleve), your surgery pain will probably respond similarly. The same is true of heating pads and other pain aids that you might use regularly.

Brace your surgery site. One of the simplest things you can do to prevent surgery pain is to brace your surgical incision. Bracing just means holding your incision/surgery site when you do anything that can cause stress on the site, including standing up, sneezing and coughing.

Reduce stress. Stress is the enemy of good pain control. An increase in stress can, and often does, increase pain. Surgery is a type of physical stress, and while that cannot be avoided, emotional stress can be minimized. Stress reduction techniques, such as deep breathing and relaxation exercises, can be very beneficial.

Pain Scale. Everyone feels pain differently. Your level of pain can't be assessed in a scientific test or screening. We rely on the following pain scale to get a more concrete sense of your pain.