Pain Control After Surgery

Pain is your body's way of telling you something is wrong. You should expect some pain after surgery. If it doesn't get better with pain medication, you might have a more serious problem.

After surgery, your doctors and nurses will ask you about your pain level. They want to make sure that you are as comfortable and pain-free as possible. Be sure to let them know if the pain relief methods they are using are not working.

You should not have to experience severe pain thanks to new and improved pain medication available. Treating pain effectively provides several benefits, including:

  • Faster healing
  • Fewer complications after surgery
  • Earlier return home from the hospital
  • Faster return to normal activities

Talking About Pain Control Before Your Surgery

It's important to let your doctor know which pain control methods have worked well or not worked well for you in the past. Also, talk to your doctor about:

  • Any concerns you have about medication
  • Names or types of medication that have not worked well for you
  • Allergies to any medications or drugs
  • Any side effects of pain medications
  • Prescription and over-the-counter medications you take for other conditions
  • The best way for you to take administer pain medication

Pain medications are given in one of the following ways:

Upon Request

Ask your nurse for pain medicine as you need it.

Pain Pills or Shots at Certain Times

Instead of waiting until you feel pain, you take medication at certain times throughout the day to keep your pain under control.

Patient Controlled Analgesia (PCA)

You give yourself pain medicine by pressing a button to inject medicine through an intravenous (IV) tube in your vein.

Patient Controlled Epidural Analgesia (PCEA)

This method gives continuous pain relief and you control your dosage (how often you get medication). Your surgeon inserts a tube in your lower back and when you press a button, the pain medication is injected through this tube.

Your doctors and nurses want to know how your pain medication is working and if you still are having any pain. If it's not working, your doctor will change your medication, how much you receive and how often you take it.

Common Pain Medications after Surgery

Various factors affect how much pain or discomfort you have after surgery. Talk to your doctor about your pain management options, including different types of pain medication and possible side effects.

Common pain medications after surgery include:

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

Examples of this type of medication are aspirin and ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin). You usually take this medication for mild or moderate pain. You have no risk of addiction with NSAIDs and may not need stronger medication, depending on your level of pain.

Possible side effects include:

  • Problems with blood clotting
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Kidney problems

Opioids (narcotics)

Opioids include drugs such as morphine and codeine. This type of medication is most often used for acute (short term) pain. Your doctor prescribes opioids right after surgery. It is rare for a patient to become addicted to opioids after surgery.

Possible side effects include:

  • Dizziness
  • Nausea, vomiting, constipation
  • Itching and other skin rashes

Local anesthetics

Local anesthesia relieves pain by blocking nerve signals that carry pain messages to your brain. There are more than 100 types of local anesthesia medication.

Your doctor may inject local anesthesia in one area of your body, such as an incision site. You may need several injections (shots) to control the pain. If you receive too much anesthetic, you can develop various side effects.


Acetaminophen (Tylenol is one brand) is a pain reliever that usually doesn't cause the stomach irritation that aspirin and NSAIDS can cause. If you are taking other medication, certain acetaminophen medications might be safer and more effective to take because they are less likely to interact (have reactions) with your other medications.

You probably won't use all these types of pain relievers unless your doctor directs you to do so.

Another way you can help control your pain is with breathing and relaxation exercises. Ask your doctor for more information about these techniques.