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Post-surgical pain

Below are answers to frequently asked questions about pain after a surgical procedure at Presbyterian/St. Luke's Medical Center.

Pain management frequently asked questions

What is pain?

Pain is an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience. Each person will perceive pain differently based on personal, cultural and religious beliefs, and prior experiences. Pain is what the experiencing person says it is, existing whenever s/he says it does. Pain is your body’s way of reacting to injury or illness. Everyone reacts to pain in different ways. You are the only person who knows what your pain feels like.

What is the pain scale?

On this pain rating scale, 0 means no pain and 10 means the worst possible pain. The middle of the scale, around 5, means moderate pain. A 2 or 3 would be mild pain, but 7 and higher means severe pain. We use this scale to help us understand our patients pain level and to set goals.

Will I have pain after surgery?

Yes. It is unrealistic to expect to be without pain after surgery, as for how much that is very individual. Each person experiences pain differently, it is based on our past experiences with pain and how we cope with it. It is always our goal to manage our patients’ pain as safely and effectively as possible and decrease your pain enough for you to function.

What do I expect after surgery?

After surgery, patients have a wide variety of symptoms ranging from sleepiness, to nausea, to pain, to itching, to disorientation. Our Recovery Room Nurses will be with you every step of the way. They will explain to you what is going on and how you are doing.

When should I take my pain medicine?

You should take your pain medications when you start to feel uncomfortable. You should not wait until your pain is out of control to ask for pain medications, because some of the medications take up to 30 minutes to take effect. You always want to stay ahead of your pain; if it gets out of control it will take you and your nurse longer to get it back under control.

Should I wake up in the middle of the night to take something?

We do recommend that the first 24 hours out of surgery and the first 24 hours that you are on oral pain medications that you stay ahead of the pain. In some cases you will be asked to work with Physical Therapy in the morning and so it is always a good idea to have some pain medications in your system.

What happens if my pain isn't controlled?

Some patients try the “grin and bear it route”. This can lead to may complications such as prolonged hospital stay, immobility, and pneumonia. If you are in too much pain to take part in the healing process then you will not heal. You need to be comfortable enough that you can take a deep breath and move around. It is all about finding a balance between pain control and function.

Do the nurses wake me up to give me pain medicine?

The nurses will periodically be assessing your pain throughout the night. However, the nurses must be cautious with pain medications especially at night because of the sedating effects that they have.

Can I take Tylenol and Ibuprofen or Aleve too?

This is up to your Doctor; it is based on your past medical history and the kind of surgery that you had. Please talk to your Doctor about this.

Who do I call or what do I do if my pain medicines don't help at home (or in the hospital)?

If your pain is not controlled while in the hospital please let your healthcare team know. Once you get home, if your pain is not well controlled please call your Surgeon. You can try some other pain control techniques like heat or cold, calm quiet place, reading a book or watching TV to distract yourself, deep breath and relax.

Am I allowed to drive while taking my pain medicines?

NO! Typically pain medications are opioids (also known as narcotics) which mean they can alter your concentration and your reaction time.

Will you give me medications/pills when I'm discharged?

We will provide you with prescriptions and you will need to fill these at your pharmacy. There is a Walgreens pharmacy located in the Professional Plaza West building on the 4th floor, which will deliver to the bedside. Contact your nurse for more information.

What do I do when I get home?

Take your medications as they are prescribed. Take them with food and drink water. Do not overdo things, take it easy.

When should I stop my pain medicines at home?

You will notice that your pain goes down as your body heals, which means you can start decreasing your pain medications. You may do this by taking half a dose or increasing the time between the dosages. For example, if you are taking 2 tablets of Vicodin every 6 hours, try taking 1 tablet of Vicodin every 6 hours or try to go 7 hours between dosages. If your pain increases go back to the 2 tablets every 6 hours and try again another day. If your pain is manageable then you can continue to decrease the dose.