What to know about postsurgical pain and how to manage it
If you or a loved one is preparing for an orthopedic surgery, such as knee replacement, here are some ways for managing post-surgical pain.
Many people who undergo an orthopedic procedure, such as a joint replacement, are no strangers to chronic pain. Joint replacement surgery is typically recommended after a patient has tried other treatment options for joint pain and discomfort.
But post-surgical pain, or post-operative pain, is different from the chronic pain that patients feel before surgery.
Understanding post-surgical pain
After a surgical procedure, some level of pain is to be expected, but the types experienced and how severe the pain is can vary from person to person.
After orthopedic surgery, you may experience pain around the incision site or in the affected area itself. For the most part, that's normal. During a knee replacement procedure, for example, soreness and discomfort are part of the healing process.
Your medical team, including your orthopedic specialist and nurses, will be able to advise you about what is and isn't normal following a procedure. Carefully watch for signs something is wrong, such as redness around the surgical incision, which may indicate an infection, or a new or intense pain in the days and weeks following surgery.
How to manage pain after surgery
Managing pain after a surgical procedure is important. Not only from a comfort standpoint, but effective pain management can help get you on the road to recovery more quickly and make you less likely to experience complications, such as blood clots.
Following an orthopedic procedure, you may be prescribed opioid analgesics, a specific type of medication designed to treat intense pain. These medications are strong and can be addictive, so they are typically prescribed only for a short period of time.
You may be prescribed certain medications in the days immediately following your procedure and then transition to a different type. It's important to take pain medication only as prescribed and only for as long as needed.
Other tips for managing post-surgical pain
Beyond taking prescription pain medication, you can also take other steps to alleviate your discomfort following surgery.
- Don't wait until the pain is severe. When you're recovering after a surgical procedure, you may hesitate to take pain medication or to take it as frequently as recommended. But if you wait until after your pain intensifies, it can be much more difficult to relieve the pain. Especially in the first days following surgery, take your medication at the first twinges of pain or as recommended by your provider.
- Talk with your provider about other options. If you feel like your prescription pain medication isn't working effectively or you'd like to taper off the medication, your orthopedic specialist may recommend taking an over-the-counter analgesic or anti-inflammatory medication.
- Prioritize sleep. Getting enough quality sleep is important at all times, but it's especially important following a surgical procedure. Sleep is a necessary component of the healing process, and it can help the body cope with pain. Most adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep per night for optimal health, but you may need more in the days and weeks following surgery.
- Don't stay in one position. Sitting or lying for too long in one position can worsen pain, causing your body to stiffen up. As advised by your medical team, get up and move around every so often. This not only helps you avoid stiffness but also helps lower the risk of post-surgical blood clots.
- Move your body. Rehabilitation, also called physical therapy, is often recommended following an orthopedic procedure such as knee replacement. Physical therapy is designed to promote safe movement after surgery or an injury. During therapy sessions, a physical therapist will guide you through basic movements that progress over time, helping your body adapt and regain skills.