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Pain Management After Orthopedic Surgery

Pain Management After Orthopedic Surgery
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Learn about pain management after orthopedic surgery. The orthopedic specialists at Union Health can help manage postsurgical pain and speed up your recovery.

About 75% of people experience postsurgical pain. But you don't need to let the fear of postsurgical pain stop you from having orthopedic surgery that can help you live your best life. The specialists at Union Health will tell you what to expect during and after orthopedic surgery. They will walk you through pain management and help you heal faster and with fewer complications.

What to Expect During and After Orthopedic Surgery

Many people who have orthopedic surgeries have been living with pain for a long time. Decreased everyday pain is a common goal of most orthopedic surgeries such as hip replacement, rotator cuff repair, or carpal tunnel release. But healing after surgery takes time and it's important to know what to expect.
Before your surgery, your provider will talk with you about the procedure and give you a chance to ask questions. They will also help you plan for after the surgery. You will discuss details about when you will return home if you will have any precautions after surgery, where you will go for physical therapy and occupational therapy, and strategies for pain management.
Your plan will be based on the type of surgery and your personal medical history. Because no two people are the same, every postsurgical plan and experience will differ.

Pain While Recovering from Orthopedic Surgery

You will be given anesthesia and other medications to help control pain during your surgery. After surgery, it is common to feel some pain or discomfort while recovering. This is a sign that your body is working hard to heal.
The amount of pain experienced varies from person to person. Patients who have surgeries involving the spine, hands, and feet may experience more pain after surgery than those who had other orthopedic surgeries. However, even patients who have the same type of surgery may have different amounts of pain while recovering.
Your pain level after surgery may vary during the healing process. The pain usually peaks in the first week after surgery.
Many people report that their postsurgical pain is worse at night. This is likely caused by a combination of factors, including stress, the impact of some medications on sleep, other sleep disruptions, and the body's natural cycles of activity and rest.
Your healthcare team will work with you to manage your pain level while healing. The goal of postsurgical pain management is to get your pain low enough for you to be able to get out of bed and move.

Why Pain Management Matters

Managing your pain after orthopedic surgery can help you be more comfortable, get better rest, and lower stress.
More importantly, effective pain management will help you get up and get moving sooner, which may:
  • Decrease the risk of chronic pain
  • Lower the chance of developing a lung or urinary infection
  • Reduce the risk of blood clots
  • Shorten your hospital stay
  • Speed up your recovery

Medication for Pain Management

After surgery, you will likely feel different types of pain. Some of the pain may be caused by inflammation or damage to the muscles or other soft tissues. This type of pain may feel like aching or soreness. Additional pain may come from damaged nerves that are healing, which may feel like burning or tingling.
Giving your provider a detailed description of what you're feeling will help them recommend the right medication to manage your pain. The types of pain medication recommended by your provider will be based on your:
  • Pain level
  • Personal medical history
  • Type of pain
You may receive only one type of pain medication or a combination. Medication may be given to you in various forms, such as pills, injections, or IVs.
Common post-surgical pain medications include:
  • Acetaminophen
  • Gabapentin
  • Nerve blocks (also known as local and regional anesthetics)
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Advil) or naproxen 
  • Opioid analgesics
Some people try to avoid taking pain medication after surgery because they worry about taking too much or becoming addicted. This is understandable, but avoiding pain medication right after surgery may have the opposite effect. 
People who use pain medication to control post-surgical pain tend to take less pain medication overall than those who try to avoid pain medicine after surgery. 

Other Pain Management Techniques

Non-drug pain management can also be an effective way to help manage pain following orthopedic surgery, including:
  • A continuous passive motion machine
  • Acupuncture
  • Guided imagery and other relaxation techniques
  • Ice packs or other types of cold therapy
  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)
These alternative pain management methods are often used in combination with pain medication.

Talking with Your Provider

One of the most important factors in post-surgical pain management is communication. Your provider needs to know how you're feeling in order to administer the appropriate treatment.
Let your healthcare team know if the pain is getting in the way of doing the activities you need to do. Tell them if you have a sudden change in your type, location, or severity of pain. And remember that the pain of surgery is temporary.
Recovering from orthopedic surgery is a journey. Managing your post-surgical pain is a step toward getting back to your usual routine with decreased pain and improved quality of life. 

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