Pain relief after minor surgery and during home recovery

Your doctor also may recommend other methods of pain management, such as rest, ice and elevation, or splinting, depending on the type of surgery. For minor surgery, these tactics are all you need to control your pain. After major surgery, they're usually the last step on the road to healing.

You'll probably be switched to oral medications in the hospital and continue taking them during your first few days — or weeks — at home. Examples include:

  • Opioid analgesics. The same or similar medications that are used in an IV catheter or PCA are available in oral form (pills). Oral opioids work well on severe pain, but the relief can come with side effects, including drowsiness, nausea and constipation. Many oral opioids are combined with acetaminophen (Tylenol, others), so be careful not to take too much acetaminophen, which is in many over-the-counter pain relievers, cold medicines and sleep aids.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Traditional NSAIDs — such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) — reduce swelling, soreness and minor pain. They may be used after minor procedures or combined with opioids for treatment after major surgery or during home recovery. Combining NSAIDs with opioids gives maximum pain relief, but with fewer side effects.

Your role in pain control

After surgery, you'll need to communicate with your doctors and nurses. Controlling your pain is important to them, too.

  • Be honest about the pain you feel after surgery. Let your doctors and nurses know how much it hurts, where it hurts, and what activities or positions make it better or worse. Your health care team will want to know the intensity of pain on a 0 to 10 scale where 0 is no pain, and 10 is the worst pain you can imagine. The more specific you can be, the better your doctors can help you.
  • Don't ignore side effects. Tell your care team if you experience sleepiness, constipation, nausea, itching or other side effects of the medications. A different pain medication or dose can sometimes reduce uncomfortable side effects.

Remember: When your pain is under control, you can focus on the important work of healing. So this isn't the time to test your pain tolerance, or grin and bear it. Work with your health care team to make your recovery as prompt and pain-free as possible.

April 18, 2014