Pain management after surgery

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

Watch 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.

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

What you need to know about anesthesia

Anesthesia is a combination of medicines that block the feelings of pain sensation and minimize awareness during surgery. You will receive other pain medicine to give you pain relief during and after surgery.

Before surgery you will meet an anesthesiologist and a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) who will work with the anesthesiologist. The anesthesiologist will review your medical history and talk with you about your anesthesia options. Your choice depends on your surgery, medical and surgical history, and physical condition. The anesthesiologist will talk with you to decide which anesthesia is best for you.

Types of anesthesia
Type Definition Benefits Side effects
General anesthesia General anesthesia puts you to sleep during surgery. It acts mainly on your brain and nervous system and affects your entire body. You receive it by shot (injection) or by inhaling it. A breathing tube helps you breathe while you are under the anesthesia. You are unconscious during general anesthesia. General anesthesia may be more appropriate for longer or more involved surgery. It may also be used if the position you will be in during surgery is uncomfortable. Minor side effects such as sore throat, headache, hoarseness, upset stomach (nausea) and drowsiness are the most common. These side effects usually go away in one day. Tell a member of your health care team if you have any of these side effects.
Regional anesthesia (including spinal anesthesia) Regional anesthesia affects specific nerves which block sensation to a limited area of your body. It is usually given with light sedation, which provides comfort and relieves anxiety while the nerve blocks are placed. You receive it by shot (injection). Spinal anesthesia numbs the lower half of your body for about three to four hours. You receive an injection between the vertebrae. Epidural anesthesia allows you to receive pain medicine after surgery. A thin plastic tube (catheter) is placed in your spine to allow for extra injections or medicines after surgery. Less medicine is needed so you wake up quicker with less chance of upset stomach (nausea). Regional anesthesia can be less stressful to your heart and lungs than general anesthesia can be. Regional anesthesia can be used to provide pain relief after surgery. Minor side effects such as small headaches, itching or trouble urinating are the most common. These side effects usually go away a few days after surgery. Tell a member of your health care team if you have any of these side effects.

Post Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU)

  • After surgery, you will be taken to the recovery room or Post Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU).
  • Most people stay about 1 to 1 1/2 hours in the PACU. Your time in the PACU will depend on your surgery and how fast you recover from the anesthesia.
  • Your nurse will monitor your vital signs and help you if you have any side effects from the anesthesia.
  • You may have some discomfort and pain when you wake up. Everyone reacts to pain differently. Your nurse will work with you to make you as comfortable as possible.
  • You may have a regular pillow or large triangle-shaped foam pillow (abductor pillow) that fits between your legs to keep you from crossing them.
  • An X-ray may be taken of your new joint in the PACU.

Post surgery unit

  • When you are fully awake and your medical status is stable, you will be taken to your room in the post-surgery unit where nurses who specialize in joint replacement will care for you.
  • When you are in your room, it is important to begin:
    — doing ankle pump exercises. This will help to prevent blood clots from forming in your legs.
    — using your incentive spirometer and doing the deep breathing exercises. See page 54 for instructions for how to use your incentive spirometer.

Source: Allina Health's Patient Education Department, Hip Replacement, fifth edition, ortho-ah-90139
First Published: 10/01/2000
Last Reviewed: 05/26/2017