Worried about Surgery Pain? Here is What You Need to Know

June 28, 2021
William Hanner D.O.

For many patients, the idea of having a surgical procedure can generate concerns about how painful it will be to recover. This concern can make people reluctant to receive the surgery they need—but before you put off your procedure, know that pain management is an important process that your doctor will help you navigate so that you can have a successful recovery.

Remember that having the surgery your body needs can provide long-term solutions that make the temporary pain after recovery well worth accepting. In fact, a skilled surgeon takes steps before, during and after your procedure to help you manage your pain so you have minimal discomfort.

To help reduce any worries and provide a clear understanding of how your pain will be managed, here is a look at how your body responds to surgery and how pain can be successfully handled so you can get back to health.

What Happens Before You Have Surgery

Regardless of the type of surgery you are having, there are some common preparation steps your doctor will ask you to take. These actions will help your body to be as ready as it can be for the procedure, increasing healthy outcomes and setting you up for success.

Pause Certain Medications

You may be asked to temporarily stop taking certain medications prior to surgery. This process usually begins 1-2 weeks before the procedure to give your body time to prepare for the best outcome. Some medications you will likely be asked to stop include:

  • Prescription anticoagulants (aka blood thinners) such as warfarin
  • Over-the-counter medications that can act as anticoagulants, such as aspirin and ibuprofen
  • Herbal pills and vitamins that can affect blood clotting, such as garlic, vitamin E, and gingko biloba
  • MAOI inhibitors, such as antidepressants and anti-Parkinson’s drugs

Other medications may be taken up to and including the day of surgery, such as blood pressure prescriptions, anti-seizure medications, and acetaminophen. 

To make this process as easy and clear as possible, be sure to let your doctor know about any pills and supplements you take, even if they are not prescriptions.

Ask about Anesthesia

The type of surgery you are having will determine the type of anesthesia you receive. 

Many procedures today can be performed without the use of general anesthesia. Instead, it is often possible to use localized or regional anesthetics specific to one area of the body. This allows the patient to remain awake while the area undergoing the procedure is numb to any pain.

For more complicated or major procedures, a twilight anesthetic or a general anesthetic may be necessary to keep you comfortable and safe while surgery is performed. This anesthesia is very safe for most patients.

If you have any concerns about anesthesia or if you have had adverse reactions to it in the past, let your doctor know so that the best approach for you can be determined.

Understand Your Procedure

You may be interested to know that not all procedures produce the same amount of pain. Even some major surgeries may be less painful than you might expect.

Research has shown that the most painful procedures are not the ones you might think. These include:

  • Open surgery to repair a heel bone fracture
  • Spinal fusion
  • Myomectomy to remove uterine fibroids
  • Proctocolectomy, which is used to treat ulcerative colitis, bowel cancer, and Crohn’s disease
  • Complex spinal reconstruction

Most of these procedures are rather rare. Your procedure is likely a more common one, and you can discuss what level of pain to expect post-surgery.

What Happens During Surgery

You may be wondering about feeling pain during the actual surgical process, especially if you have not had surgery before. 

The good news is that with skilled anesthesiologists and surgeons performing your procedure, you can expect to feel no pain. The anesthetic and pain medicine that you are given will prevent you from experiencing pain while the surgery is done.

Depending on the surgery that you are having, sometimes a regional nerve block is utilized by the anesthesiologist and surgeon to help with controlling your pain during and immediately after your surgery. 

What Happens After You Have Surgery

Controlling pain after surgery is essential to a speedy, healthy recovery and can lessen the likelihood of developing post-surgical complications such as pneumonia. Your surgeon will work with you to determine the best approach to pain management during your healing process.

Know What Kinds of Pain You May Experience

Surgery can influence how you feel throughout your body. During recovery, it is common for patients to experience:

  • Pain at the incision sites and in the area where the procedure was performed
  • Sore throat from anesthesia tools and equipment
  • Muscle aches throughout the body, including back, arms, and legs, from time spent on the surgical table
  • Pain or achiness as you sit up, shift positions, and move about as your body recovers

You and your doctor should discuss what to expect post-surgery—but when in doubt, it is always welcome for you to call with any questions or concerns you have as you recover.

Learn about the Pain Medications You Are Prescribed

Your doctor will consider your specific needs and preferences to create a pain management plan for you post-surgery. Depending on your procedure, you may have any number of medications prescribed by your surgeon as part of your recovery plan:

Patient-controlled analgesia (PCA) — A PCA system allows you to administer pain relief as you need it. PCA pumps are designed not to over-medicate a patient, and they provide a sense of control that is appealing to many people. This type of pain relief is typically utilized after major abdominal surgery with larger incisions while in the hospital.

Nerve blocks — Used during and after surgical procedures, regional nerve blocks control pain when it is isolated to small areas, such as your arm or leg. Many patients and doctors like nerve blocks because they can help reduce the need for opioid-based medications intra-operatively and post-operatively.

Oral medications — These can fall into narcotic and non-narcotic groups, and are administered at different times, depending on the patient’s needs:

  • Immediately after surgery, strong pain relief is needed, and opioids such as morphine and fentanyl may be administered.
  • Once at home, the patient may be prescribed opioids for moderate to strong pain relief, such as Percocet and Hydrocodone.
  • Mild to moderate pain can often be relieved by non-opioid medications such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and a variety of other analgesics and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs

Know that the Pain Will Not Last Forever

Every patient handles pain uniquely, and the specifics of your surgical procedure will also impact the pain you experience afterwards. 

In general, you can expect pain at the incision site to be most noticeable on day 2 and day 3 after surgery, and then lessens over the course of 1-2 weeks.

Our Caring Team Helps You Minimize Post-Procedure Pain 

Remember, effective pain management is made easier when you work with the right medical team.

At Midtown Surgical & Skin Institute, we are skilled and experienced in performing surgeries with precision and care, so that your recovery is as smooth and as pain-free as possible. We also take your individual needs into account as we craft a post-surgical recovery plan specifically for you.

Don’t let concerns over your recovery keep you from the long-term relief that a successful surgery can provide. Contact our team today to set up a consultation that gives you confidence in your recovery.

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