Pain relief

Your pain should lessen every week. There are many ways you can ease your pain:

  • Go for a walk a few times each day.
  • After activity (exercises or walking) lie down and apply a cold pack to your incision. This can help reduce swelling and pain.
    • Use a clean, dry towel on your skin before you place the cold pack. Leave the cold pack on for 15 to 20 minutes at a time.
    • Use cold packs several times throughout the day.
  • You may feel some discomfort in your new joint. Raise (elevate) your leg above the level of your heart by placing a pillow under your calf or ankle, not your knee. You can also try massage, aromatherapy, music therapy or other non-medicine ways to relieve pain.
  • Take the prescription pain medicine as directed.

Pain medicine: What you need to know

How to take opioid medicine

  • Take the medicine as directed by your health care provider.
  • Eat before you take the medicine.
  • Drink plenty of water with the medicine.
  • Write down when you take the medicine and how many pills you take.
  • Do not drive when you are taking the medicine. The medicine will affect your ability to make decisions or react quickly.
  • Do not drink alcohol when you are taking the medicine.
  • Use it only for the first few days or weeks when the pain is most intense. Talk with your health care provider for a taper plan.
  • Put your opioid medicine in a secure place to prevent others from using it.

Opioid benefits and risks

Potential benefits are: 

  • The medicine works quickly.
  • You will feel less pain.
  • You will be able to be active to speed your recovery. For every day you stay in bed, you need 3 days to regain your strength.
  • You will be able to sleep or rest better.

Potential risks are:

  • Taking an opioid can lead to addiction.
    • On average, more than 130 people die each day in the U.S. from an overdose of opioids, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • The longer you take opioids, the more your body gets used to it (known as tolerance), and two things happen:
    • They may not work as well.
    • You may have more side effects when you stop them.
      These are not problems in the first three days of use.
  • Taking too many opioids can cause side effects, such as:
    • feeling dizzy, itchy or both
    • making you feel groggy or sleepy
    • feeling sick to your stomach
    • throwing up
    • being unable to have a regular bowel movement (constipation)
    • having breathing problems.
  • Some opioids contain acetaminophen (Tylenol®), such as Norco® or Percocet®. Acetaminophen is an over-the-counter medicine. Do not take more than 4,000 mg of acetaminophen in 24 hours.
    • Allergic reactions to opioids or acetaminophen include:
      • hives, itching or a flushing feeling
      • swollen lips, tongue or both
      • nasal congestion, feeling like your throat is closing or choking
      • shortness of breath, wheeze or cough
      • feeling faint, lightheaded, dizzy or having a racing heart
      • upset stomach, throwing up, diarrhea (loose stools) and belly pain.
  • You may be at a higher risk for side effects (including accidental death) if you have sleep apnea, drink alcohol, or if you take a benzodiazepine (sedative) medicine while taking an opioid.

How to cut back (taper) an opioid

Take your recommended doses when your pain is at its worst. Slowly cut back (taper) on the opioid pain medicine once you can cope with the pain by using other ways to manage your pain. Ask your health care provider for directions on how to taper. Be sure you know how long you should take the medicine.

How to get rid of unused opioids

Do not keep unused medicine "in case" you think you may need it. Having it in the house where other adults, children or pets could reach it is unsafe.

  • To get rid of unused opioids, bring them to a drop-off location or to an Allina Health Pharmacy.  To find a location near you:
    • Minnesota: Go to pca.state.mn.us and type "household hazardous waste" in the search box.
    • Wisconsin: Go to dnr.wi.gov and type "health care waste" in the search box.
  • If you can't get to a disposal site:
    • Scratch off your name, your provider's name and the prescription number on the medicine label. Or, scribble the information out with a black marker.
    • Add a small amount of vinegar to dissolve most of the pills. (Do not flush the pills.)
    • Take the cap of your medicine container shut with a strong tape.
    • Put the taped medicine container in a paper bag or other container you cannot see through (such as an empty yogurt, sour cream or coffee container).
    • Throw the contents in the garbage, not the recycling bin.

When to call your health care provider's office

Call your health care provider if you have:

  • side effects or problems
  • new pain
  • questions or concerns.

Anti-inflammatory medicines

You may have been started on anti-inflammatory medicines such as ibuprofen (Advil®, Motrin®) naproxen (Aleve®) or celecoxib (Celebrex®) during your recovery in the hospital. Anti-inflammatory medicines help with healing by reducing swelling and pain.

If you will be continuing an anti-inflammatory medicine after leaving the hospital, be aware that these medicines may cause stomach upset for some people. Take the medicine as directed on your prescription. Take medicine with food or milk to prevent stomach upset or other problems (complications).  Call your health care provider if you have any questions or concerns.

Source: Allina Health's Patient Education Department, Knee Replacement, seventh edition, ortho-ah-90140
First Published: 10/01/2000
Last Reviewed: 02/01/2020

Resources

Keeping your pain managed continues when you leave the hospital.

For more information on managing your pain, visit allinahealth.org/painvideos to watch a series of four short videos on pain.

The topics are:

  • pain expectations
  • how to use the pain scale
  • how to treat pain in the hospital
  • how to manage pain at home.

You can watch the videos as often as you would like.

Important
Talk with your surgeon before starting an anti-inflammatory medicine.