If you are going in for surgery—whether it is a hip replacement, knee replacement, intestinal surgery, cancer surgery, amputation, or some other surgery—it is reasonable to be concerned about post-surgical pain. While the level of post-surgical pain varies greatly depending on the specific surgery and a patient's risk factors, everyone can take valuable steps to prevent or reduce post-surgical pain.

Why It's Important

Aside from the obvious reason of eliminating or reducing the feeling of pain, preventing post-surgical pain is also important for a speedier recovery. According to health care professionals, post-surgical pain conditions not only can have major adverse effects on physical functioning, but also on mental and emotional well-being. This in turn, can slow down the healing process. In other words, when your pain is under control, your body can focus on the important work of healing.

Prevent Post Surgical Pain

Before you go in for surgery, it is important to sit down with your doctor(s) with a detailed list of questions:

1. Ask your doctor how much and what kind of pain is most common following the type of surgery that you are getting.

2. Ask your doctor detailed questions about what kinds of options the hospital offers for treating the pain you may feel after the surgery.

3. Ask you doctor what are the best options for you taking into consideration your medical history.

  • Research has shown that a preemptive dose of pain relievers (either oral or injectabke) can prevent the nervous system from experiencing pain from the trauma of surgery and thereby reduce post-surgical pain. This is called preemptive analgesia. The concept is that if you block the spinal cord from processing the pain information, the likelihood of developing chronic pain afterwards is significantly reduced.
  • Before you make a decision, take time to research all of your options.
  • Once your doctor gives you a plan of action to follow before your surgery, be sure to follow it exactly. Reports have shown that patients who follow a course of preemptive medications as prescribed by their doctor, have a shorter hospital stay and quicker recovery rate.
  • Finally, before your surgery, make sure you understand your doctor's instructions about eating and drinking. Anesthesia administered during surgery may require a patient to have an empty stomach.

Pain After Surgery

Post-surgical pain can be treated with one pain medication or with a combination of two or more drugs. They can be given orally, through an IV, or by injection. The most common medications prescribed for post-surgical pain are:

  • Narcotics such as morphine and codeine (also known as opioids)
  • Acetaminophen (an analgesic drug that reduces pain and fever)
  • Combinations of acetaminophen and narcotics, such as Vicodin or Percocet
  • Local anesthetics (drugs that deaden the sensation of pain in a specific area are usually injected)
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen. These drugs treat the irritation, inflammation, or infection around a wound that might be causing your pain.

Alternative Therapy Treatments for Post-Surgical Pain

Alternative therapies such as acupuncture and relaxation techniques such as meditation, guided imagery, and progressive relaxation are increasingly being recognized as helpful in managing pain.

Bottom Line

Talk with your doctor about what you can do to prevent or minimize your post-surgical pain so you can heal as quickly as possible.




Dworkin, Robert, McDermott, Michael, and Raja Srinavasa. "Preventing Chronic Post Surgical Pain: How Much of a Difference Makes a Difference." Anesthesiology. Mar 2010. 112: 3. 516-518. Web. 25 May 2010. http://journals.lww.com/anesthesiology/Fulltext/2010/03000/Preventing_Chronic_Postsurgical_Pain__How_Much_of.7.aspx

Gerancher, J.C. "What Can I Do to Prevent Pain After Surgery?" ABC News. 2 Jan. 2008. Web. 25 May, 2010. http://abcnews.go.com/Health/CommonPainProblems/story?id=4048019

Mayo Clinic Staff. "Pain Medications After Surgery." MayoClinic.com. Web. 25 May 2010. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/pain-medications/pn00060

"Pain Control After Surgery." Cleveland Clinic. Web. 25 May 2010. http://my.clevelandclinic.org/services/pain_management/hic_pain_control_after_surgery.aspx