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Pain Management after Surgery


What you need to know about pain management after surgery:

Good control of your pain will help you heal from surgery and return to your normal activities. It will also help you do important activities such as walking and deep breathing. If your pain prevents you from doing these activities, you may be at risk for complications. Examples include a blood clot or pneumonia. Tell your healthcare provider if your pain is not controlled. You may need changes to your medicine or treatment plan.

Seek care immediately if:

  • You have severe pain.

Call your doctor or surgeon if:

  • Your pain does not get better after take your pain medicine.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.


You may need any of the following:

  • Acetaminophen decreases pain and fever. It is available without a doctor's order. Ask how much to take and how often to take it. Follow directions. Read the labels of all other medicines you are using to see if they also contain acetaminophen, or ask your doctor or pharmacist. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly. Do not use more than 4 grams (4,000 milligrams) total of acetaminophen in one day.
  • NSAIDs , such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask your healthcare provider if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions.
  • Prescription pain medicine may be given. Ask your healthcare provider how to take this medicine safely. Some prescription pain medicines contain acetaminophen. Do not take other medicines that contain acetaminophen without talking to your healthcare provider. Too much acetaminophen may cause liver damage. Prescription pain medicine may cause constipation. Ask your healthcare provider how to prevent or treat constipation.
  • Anxiety medicine decreases anxiety. High levels of anxiety make pain harder to manage.
  • Muscle relaxers help decrease pain by relaxing your muscles and preventing spasms.
  • Take your medicine as directed. Contact your healthcare provider if you think your medicine is not helping or if you have side effects. Tell him or her if you are allergic to any medicine. Keep a list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs you take. Include the amounts, and when and why you take them. Bring the list or the pill bottles to follow-up visits. Carry your medicine list with you in case of an emergency.

Ways to manage pain without medicine:

  • Apply heat or ice, if recommended. Your surgeon will tell you if this is recommended after the kind of surgery you had. Heat helps decrease pain and muscle spasms. Apply heat for 20 to 30 minutes every 2 hours for as directed. Ice helps prevent tissue damage and decreases swelling and pain. Apply ice for 15 to 20 minutes every hour or as directed. Use an ice pack, or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover it with a towel before you apply it to the surgery area.
  • Elevate the surgery area above the level of your heart if possible. This will help decrease swelling and pain. Prop your painful area on pillows or blankets to keep it elevated comfortably.
  • Apply compression with an elastic bandage or abdominal binder as directed. An elastic bandage may be used after surgery on your joint, such as your knee. An abdominal binder may be used for surgeries in your abdomen.
  • Sleep in a comfortable position. Examples include sleeping upright or on your side. Use pillows to support painful areas.
  • Ask your healthcare provider about other ways to manage pain without medicine. Examples include relaxation techniques, music, or acupuncture.

Follow up with your doctor or surgeon as directed:

Tell your doctor or surgeon if you have continuing or worsening pain. Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

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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.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.