Causes of Pain After Surgery and How to Deal with It

Pain that happens after surgery may cause worries. It is normal to experience pain after receiving surgery, and your surgeon will help manage it. Let’s look at some factors that determine the degree of the pain and how it can be managed:

  • The amount of pain felt after a surgery is dependent on the type of surgery.
  • The longer the surgery is, the more pain you will feel.
  • Each person has a different reaction to pain.

Causes of Pain After Surgery

Pain after surgical procedures can be a sign of surgical complications such as the following:

  • Infection. Pain that is accompanied by fever, pus, swelling, or redness after surgery could be a sign of infection.
  • Wound. This is also called dehiscence, which happens if the stitches fail to hold the skin firmly together, thus leaving the wound open.
  • A collection of blood. The collection of blood or any body fluid beneath the skin is known as a seroma or a hematoma. Seroma may lead to swelling and pain around the wound, which need to be drained by a doctor.
  • Vomiting or change in your bowel habits. One may experience an abnormal bowel functioning if an abdominal surgery is carried out, and this is often accompanied with vomiting and pain. Also, difficulty in intestinal movement (known as ileus) can also lead to abdominal distention, vomiting, and pain.
  • Formation of fistulas. A fistula is an abnormal passage between body structures. For instance, there may be the formation of the fistula between the skin and the bowel. This may lead to pain.
  • Lung complications. They are common especially after a lung surgery that requires a long period of recovery. These complications can lead to blood clot in the lung or pneumonia, causing chest pain, fever, shortness of breath, or cough.
  • Bleeding. This can occur either externally (from the wound) or internally (inside the body). Bleeding after surgery can be a minor issue but could also be life-threatening.
  • Chronic conditions. Chronic conditions could cause more complications and pain after surgery. Common chronic conditions that can lead to surgical pain include rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. Discuss with your doctor before and after surgery to avoid worse conditions.

Pain Relief After Surgery

1. Intravenous Pain Medication

Before a surgery, a slim plastic tube called catheter is inserted into your body through the vein in your arm or hand to give you anesthetics, sedatives, antibiotics, fluids or pain medications. This may be kept after the surgery, and be used by your doctor to give you pain medication in the hospital. Usually, pain medications such as opioids are injected into your catheter on a regular basis. You can also use a system called patient-controlled analgesia, which allows you to control your medication injection by pushing a button. In this case, you are the only one who is allowed to push the button.

2. Epidural Analgesia

This is common with surgeries that involve labor and delivery. Epidural analgesia involves injecting pain medications into the epidural space through a catheter. This space is within the spinal canal and outside the spinal fluid. This catheter can be left in the body for a period of time depending on the healing process. You can use the patient-controlled epidural analgesia, which is similar to patient-controlled analgesia, to give yourself extra doses if you feel pain.

3. Spinal Anesthesia

This method is different from epidural analgesia. For surgeries that are done with spinal anesthesia, the pain medications are injected into the spinal fluid and not the spinal cord.

The pro of this medication is that it is faster than spinal anesthesia, while the con is that it can't stand for a long time due to lacking of catheter to inject additional medications.

4. Nerve Block

Nerve block can offer targeted pain relief to certain parts of the body, such as the leg or arm. You feel pain after surgery as pain messages get to the brain through the nerve, while the nerve block can prevent this message delivery. Nerve block can be applied in both outpatient and inpatient surgeries.

5. Combination Pain Medications

This is often referred to as multimodal pain relief. It involves injecting a mixture of opioids and one or more several drugs like ketamine, gabapentin, ibuprofen, acetaminophen, or celecoxib. All these listed drugs have the ability of pain relief, and they should be administered in small doses to prevent any complications. These medications are administered as tablets and taken through the mouth. 

What Can You Do?

It is important to discuss any issue with your doctor and nurses after a surgery. Here is something that you can do if you experience pain after having an surgery.

1. Don’t Hide Any Feelings

Tell your doctor the exact way you feel, the degree of pain and the exact place where you feel the pain. Besides, if your pain after surgery is very severe, seek medical help immediately as it can indicate an infection. 

2. Let Them Know How You Feel After Using Pain Medications

If you experience any side effect, such as itching, constipation, nausea, or sleepiness, of the pain medication, let your health care provider know about it.

3. Take Care of Your Wound

Properly taking care of your wound can help relieve your pain and prevent infections. Here is what to do.

  • Elevate your wound above the heart to reduce inflammation, and rest it.
  • Keep the wound and the area around the wound dry and clean.
  • If your doctor have prescribed a special diet plan for you, make sure you follow it carefully especially after an abdominal surgery.
  • You may consult your doctor who can prescribe other pain relief methods for you, which may include ice pack application, warm compress, relaxation therapy, movement or splinting.
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