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How to manage your pain after surgery

  • Types of pain

    Pain can last less than three to six months (acute), last a long time (chronic) or be severe and intense (breakthrough). Pain can come and go with injury, recovery or illness.

    Your right to pain management

    You have the right to have your pain managed. Proper treatment of pain is necessary for you to achieve the best results during your recovery.

    If you do not think that your pain is being treated well, please tell a member of your health care team. He or she will talk with you about your pain and pain management needs.

    Pain scale

    Use a number scale (0 to 10) to rate your pain will help the health care team members know how severe your pain is and help them make decisions about how to treat it.

    Allina Health Pain Assessment Scale

    Your role in managing pain

    After surgery, it is common to have some pain. Your nurse will monitor your pain level often and help you manage the pain.

    Since you are the only one who knows where and how severe your pain is, you have an important part in managing your pain.

    If you have pain, tell a member of your health care team.

    All of the following information will help your health care provider prescribe the right medicine and therapy for your pain, and prevent serious side effects (complications). Tell a member of your health care team:

    • where you feel pain and how much pain you have (use words to describe how the pain feels)
    • what makes your pain better or worse
    • what methods of pain control have worked or have not worked well in the past
    • if you take pain medicines on a regular basis
    • if you have allergies or reactions to pain medicine(s)
    • your goals for managing your pain
    • what vitamins, herbal and natural products you are taking
    • if you smoke
    • if you drink more than two alcoholic drinks each day
    • if you take illegal (street) drugs
    • if you are in a methadone maintenance program

    Treatments for pain

    Managing your pain is more than taking prescription (opioid) pain medicine. There are many different types of treatments for pain including:

    • medicines
    • physical therapy
    • cold (ice packs)
    • integrative therapies: music, relaxation techniques, massage, aromatherapy
    • psychological therapies
    • nerve blocks

    Pain medicine side effects

    All medicines have some side effects, but not everyone gets them. When side effects occur, it is usually within a few hours after taking the medicine. Most side effects can be managed and go away in time

    Tell a member of your health care team right away if you have:

    • constipation
    • sleepiness
    • dizziness
    • itching, a rash or both
    • upset stomach (nausea) and throwing up (vomiting)
    • slowed breathing
    • trouble concentrating
    • forgetfulness
    • increased anxiety

    Pain control can help you

    The right pain control can help:

    • you be more comfortable
    • you get back to your normal routine
    • you participate more completely in your exercises and therapy
    • promote healing

    Before you go home

    A member of your health care team will give you instructions for managing your pain at home. Be sure to have written instructions with a health care provider's name and phone number who will manage your pain after you go home.

    It is important you follow any instructions you receive for taking pain medicine. Ask a member of your health care team if you need help.

    Call the health care provider who prescribed the medicine or your primary care provider if you have concerns or side effects from pain medicine.

  • Videos

    Pain management after surgery

    These four videos review pain expectations, rating your pain, pain treatment options and home pain management.

    Video iconWatch all four modules.

    Peripheral nerve block: Pain control after surgery

    This 24-minute video explains what a peripheral nerve block is and how you can use it to control pain in the hospital and after you return home.

    Video iconWatch the full video or in two- to three-minute segments.

  • Important

    Having no pain while in the hospital is not realistic, but pain can be controlled.

    Your health care team will work closely with you to help manage your pain during your hospital stay and when you return home.

    You and your health care team will establish a "pain goal"—the amount of acceptable pain you can tolerate during your hospital stay.

    For most people, a pain goal of 3 or 4 out of 10 is an OK pain level that balances pain control with your ability to do physical therapy and daily activities.

    Important

    You can expect your pain to lessen as you heal. Your health care team will work with you to help manage your symptoms with medicines and other methods. 

    When medicines are used correctly to manage pain, addiction rarely occurs. Please talk with a member of your health care team if you have concerns.

    Tip

    Take pain medicine when pain first begins. If you know your pain may get worse with activity, take your pain medicine before the activity.

    Do not wait for pain to get worse before taking medicine. Tablets or pills may take up to 30 minutes to begin working. Timing of when to take medicines is important.

    Talk to a member of your health care team about how to time your pain medicines before therapy or activity.