Pain Control After Surgery: A Patient's Guide
Acute Pain Management Guideline Panel. Pain Control After Surgery. A Patient's Guide. AHCPR Pub. No. 92-0021. Rockville, MD: Agency for Health Care Policy and Research, Public Health Service, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Feb. 1992.
What is Pain?
Pain is an uncomfortable feeling that tells you something may be wrong in your body. Pain is your body's way of sending a warning to your brain. Your spinal cord and nerves provide the pathway for messages to travel to and from your brain and the other parts of your body.
Receptor nerve cells in and beneath your skin sense heat, cold, light, touch, pressure, and pain. You have thousands of these receptor cells, most sense pain and the fewest sense cold. When there is an injury to your body--in this case surgery--these tiny cells send messages along nerves into your spinal cord and then up to your brain. Pain medicine blocks these messages or reduces their effect on your brain.
Sometimes pain may be just a nuisance, like a mild headache. At other times, such as after an operation, pain that doesn't go away- -even after you take pain medicine--may be a signal that there is a problem. After your operation, your nurses and doctors will ask you about your pain because they want you to be comfortable, but also because they want to know if something is wrong. Be sure to tell your doctors and nurses when you have pain.
Purpose of This Article
- Learn why pain control is important for your recovery as well as your comfort.
- Play an active role in choosing among options for treating your pain.
People used to think that severe pain after surgery was something they "just had to put up with." But with current treatments, that's no longer true. Today, you can work with your nurses and doctors before and after surgery to prevent or relieve pain.
Pain control can help you:
- Enjoy greater comfort while you heal.
- Get well faster. With less pain, you can start walking, do your breathing exercises, and get your strength back more quickly. You may even leave the hospital sooner.
- Improve your results. People whose pain is well-controlled seem to do better after surgery. They may avoid some problems (such as pneumonia and blood clots) that affect others.
Pain control: What are the options?
Both drug and non-drug treatments can be successful in helping to prevent and control pain. The most common methods of pain control are described. You and your doctors and nurses will decide which ones are right for you. Many people combine two or more methods to get greater relief.
Don't worry about getting "hooked" on pain medicines. Studies show that this is very rare--unless you already have a problem with drug abuse.