Postop Pain


  • Postop pain is pain that you have after surgery. It is also called postsurgical or postoperative pain. Everyone feels pain differently and responds differently to pain control treatments. We used to think that severe pain after surgery was normal and to be expected. But, today there are treatments to prevent or control postop pain. It is important to keep your pain level low so that you are comfortable. This will help you to start moving sooner which helps you heal faster.

  • Pain after surgery is caused by injury to your skin, muscles, and nerves during the operation. How much surgery was done may affect how much pain you have afterwards. Another thing that makes postop pain worse is having gas in your bowel (gut or intestine). Being anxious or worrying can also make postop pain worse. Tell caregivers about your pain so that they can help you manage it. Caregivers want to lessen your suffering. Following are some of the other reasons why it is important to control pain after surgery.

    • Pain affects how well you sleep which makes you feel like you do not have any energy. And, if you have too much pain you may not be able to do the things that help you heal faster, like sitting in a chair or walking.

    • Pain can also cause you to breathe too shallow and may keep you from coughing. This can lead to pneumonia.

    • Pain can affect your appetite (desire to eat) and can keep your bowels from working normally. This may make you not eat after surgery. Good nutrition is very important in helping you heal well.

    • Pain can also affect your mood (how you feel about things) and your relationships with others.


  • Medicines:

    • Keep a written list of what medicines you take and when and why you take them. Bring the list of your medicines or the pill bottles when you see your caregivers. Learn why you take each medicine. Ask your caregiver for information about your medicines. Do not take any medicines without first talking to caregivers.

    • Always take your medicine as directed by caregivers. Call your caregiver if you think your medicines are not helping or if you feel you are having side effects. Do not quit taking it until you discuss it with your caregiver. If you are taking antibiotics, take them until they are all gone even if you feel better.

  • Ask for information about where and when to go for follow-up visits: For continuing care, treatments, or home services, ask for more information.

  • Both cold and heat can help lessen some types of postop pain. Some types of pain improve best using cold while other types of pain improve most with heat. Caregivers will tell you if cold and/or hot packs will help your pain. It is important to use cold and heat correctly. Ask caregivers how to use cold and/or hot packs safely.

  • Keep the incision (if it is on your arm or leg) raised above the level of your heart whenever possible for the next 2 days. This will help lessen the pain and swelling. Move your legs often while resting in bed to avoid blood clots.

  • How can you take pain medicine safely and make it work the best for you?

    • Some pain medicines can make you breathe less deeply and less often. The medicine may also make you sleepy, dizzy, and unsafe to drive a car or use heavy equipment. For these reasons, it is very important to follow your caregivers advice on how to use this medicine. Be sure to take your pain medication as directed to stay comfortable and heal more quickly. But, if you are taking medicine that makes you drowsy, do not drive or use heavy equipment.

    • Do not drink alcohol while you are taking narcotic pain medication.

    • Ask your caregiver before taking other medications.

    • Sometimes the pain is worse when you first wake up in the morning. This may happen if you did not have enough pain medicine in your blood stream to last through the night. Caregivers may tell you to take a dose of pain medicine during the night.

    • Some foods, alcohol, and other medicines may cause unpleasant side effects when you take pain medicine. Follow your caregivers advice about how to prevent these problems.

    • Do not stop taking pain medicine suddenly if you have been taking it longer than 2 weeks. Your body may have become used to the medicine. Stopping the medicine all at once may cause unpleasant or dangerous side effects.

    • With time, you may feel that the pain medicine is not working as well as it did before. Call your caregiver if this happens. Together you can find new ways to control the pain.

    • Pain medicine can make you constipated (hard BMs). Straining with a BM can make your pain worse. Do not try to push the BM out if it's too hard. Following are some things that you can do to deal with constipation.

      • Eat healthy foods from all of the 5 food groups: fruits, vegetables, breads, dairy products, meat and fish. Eating healthy foods may help you feel better and have more energy. It may also help you heal faster. But, avoid hard cheeses and refined grains, such as rice and macaroni. Eat more foods high in fiber. Some high-fiber foods are raw fruits and vegetables, whole-grain breads and cereals, dried fruits, popcorn, and nuts.

      • Caregivers may tell you to take fiber medicine to help make your BMs softer and more regular. This fiber medicine can be bought at any grocery or drug store. Also, ask your caregiver about taking a mild laxative (medicine to soften BMs).

      • Talk to your caregiver about drinking more liquids if you are not on a fluid restriction. Drinking warm or hot liquids can help make your bowels more active. Prune juice may also help make the BM softer.

      • Walking is a very good way to get your bowels moving. You may feel like resting more after surgery. Slowly start to do more each day. Try to get up and around and do as much of your own personal care as possible. Once you are stronger after surgery, start exercising. It is best to start slowly and do more as you get stronger. Talk to your caregiver before you start so that together you can plan an exercise program.

  • Caregivers may suggest you go to a pain clinic if you have chronic (long-term) pain. Sixty percent of patients who use pain clinic programs are better 1 year after treatments. These programs have many kinds of health caregivers who help with the physical (body), emotional (mind) and spiritual parts of chronic pain. These specially trained caregivers at the clinic can teach you different ways to control the pain along with medicines. Some of these methods are relaxation therapy, hypnosis, and acupuncture.


  • You have pain an hour after taking your pain medication (it may not be strong enough).

  • You feel too sleepy or groggy (your pain medication may be too strong).

  • You have problems such as nausea, vomiting, or a rash which may be a side effect of the medicine you are taking.

  • You have increased redness, swelling, bleeding, or pus-like drainage coming from the wound.

  • You have tingling, numbness, swelling, or bluish fingers or toes.

  • Your incision opens up.

  • You have a lot of pain or discomfort after normal activities.

  • You have are worried or have questions about your pain.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.