Managing Pain After Surgery

Jun 24, 2016

Managing Pain After Surgery

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Dealing with Post-Surgery Pain Before Your Operation Begins

Recovering from surgery no matter how major or minor is a strenuous task. With surgery also comes the pain that follows the procedure. It’s important to be prepared and to know how you’re going to handle things when pain arrives. Preparing both before and after surgery will limit the amount of pain you endure and will make the recovery process run much smoother.

You will first want to consult your doctor and/or surgeon to find out how they plan to manage your pain after surgery. Find out about any of side effects that the pain medication may cause and how to combat them. Some medications cause nausea or dizziness, so it’s important to figure out how to deal with any symptoms ahead of time before they present themselves. Make sure to inform your doctor of any allergies or previous addictions to opioids that you may have. Your doctor should also know what medications and supplements you’re already taking.       

Also, ask your doctor or surgeon how much pain and what kind of pain to expect after the surgery. It can reduce anxiety if you or your loved one knows what to expect after the surgery. It’s also important to remember that the doctor’s main priority is your well-being. They will make sure your surgery is successful and as painless as possible. Be vocal. Tell your doctor how much pain you can tolerate, and be descriptive about your pain.

Post Surgery Pain Management

One of the lesser known issues patients face after surgery is anxiety and depression. A change in living conditions and the feeling of helplessness can cause these feelings, as well as the mental exhaustion that rehabilitation can cause.          

If you already suffer from depression or anxiety, make sure you have someone to talk to after your procedure. It’s also important to inform the doctor if you’re taking any anti-anxiety or antidepressants.

  • Rest – Rest is always going to be a great treatment for an injury. Allowing the body to heal without any pressure on it will greatly improve your recovery time. It also gives your body a chance to fight off any incoming sicknesses.
  • Ice - Ice makes blood vessels vasoconstrict (get smaller), decreasing the blood flow. This helps control inflammation and the pain it causes. Apply an ice pack to the area four or five times a day to reduce the amount of swelling and soreness.
  • Heat - Heat makes blood vessels vasodilate (get larger), increasing the blood flow. This action helps flush away chemicals that cause pain. It also helps bring in healing nutrients and oxygen. Alternating between ice and heat create a great 1-2 punch that will help knockout pain and swelling.
  • Electrical Swelling – This might not be something you can do at home, but stimulation of the muscle can reduce tightness and speed up the healing process. Some patients say electrical stimulation feels like a gentle massage. By relaxing the muscles, you may be able to exercise and do your activities easier.
  • Physical Therapy and Exercise – One of the biggest treatments for pain, stretching out and strengthening the injured area can alleviate pain and quicken the recovery process. Various exercises can stimulate nerves and cause blood to flow into the injured area.
  • Medication Pain medication can be administered a variety of ways. If still under the hospital’s supervision, the doctor or surgeon will administer pain medication through either an IV, or patient-controlled epidurals. The latter allows the patient to administer an amount of medication based on the amount of pain he or she is in.

A doctor or surgeon will most likely administer some sort or opioid like Vicodin or Percocet if the patient does not have an allergy or previous addiction to opioids. It is important to only use the medication as needed and as directed by a doctor. Thousands of people each year become addicted to opioids after a major surgery or injury.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What are the common side effects of opioids?

There are some unpleasant side effects of opioids that you will want to discuss with your senior’s physician or pain management specialist. They are:

  • Constipation: The elderly and those with conditions affecting the gastrointestinal tract are most likely to suffer from constipation when taking opioids.
  • Nausea and vomiting: Depending on what opioid your loved one is taking, it may take a toll on the gastrointestinal tract, causing nausea and vomiting.
  • Itching: Though this symptom will typically last for just a few days, patients may feel itchy due to the release of histamines triggered by opioids.
  • Respiratory depression: This is a rare symptom, though will be present in an opioid overdose. If you or your senior experience shallow slow breathing when taking opioids, talk to your doctor to determine if medication changes should be made, or if it is stemming from another underlying condition.

Learn more about chronic pain management for seniors by reading about how to treat chronic pain in the elderly.

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So I’m not one to try pain medicines unless it’s a last resort - does acupuncture work for seniors?

We hear you! There are many studies to show that acupuncture can be effective in treating mild forms of osteoarthritis. Essentially, this technique causes an increase in T-cells and inhibits inflammatory cytokines which can result in pain management. Acupuncture may also be useful for those suffering from back pain and headaches. Results can vary, however it is one non-drug option many seniors try frequently.

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