Setting Pain Goals after Orthopedic Surgery
Pain control is a key part of your care after surgery. It can help speed recovery and
improve the results of your surgery. This handout was written to help you learn
how pain is managed after surgery. It describes:
1. Setting realistic goals for pain control.
2. How pain is managed.
Realistic Goals for Pain Control
It is very hard to safely do away with all of your pain. Pain medicine can make
you very sleepy and may affect your breathing. We will work with you to keep
you safe and help you be as comfortable as possible. To help make this happen,
we will talk with you about what to expect and how to set realistic goals for pain
control. Your nurses will always be working with you to find the best way to
manage your pain.
People feel pain in many ways. Although it varies with each person, you should
expect to have some degree of pain after surgery. It is not realistic to expect to
have no pain. We will ask you to tell us about your pain using a scale of 0 to 10
where 0 = no pain and 10 = the worst pain you can imagine. These pain rating
numbers are used along with other measures that include how well you can move,
eat, and sleep.
Most patients can manage with a pain level in the mild (1-4) to moderate (5-7)
range. If you have severe pain (8-10), your goal should be to reach a pain level in
the 3-5 range. It needs to be low enough so you can walk, rest, and do any
required activities. Good pain control should also allow you to get some rest
without getting too sleepy.
Setting realistic pain goals after surgery may help you measure your progress as
you get better. The nursing staff will help you to set a realistic pain goal and
match it with your activity goals. For instance, your pain goal for the day may be
6, and your activity goal may be to sit up in the chair for all meals. At the end of
the day, you should think about your progress and decide if your pain goal was
realistic. You may need to change your goal.
How Pain is Managed after Orthopedic Surgery
There are a number of options your doctor may choose from to manage your pain.
Your doctor may discuss these with you before surgery. Our goal is to manage and
reduce your pain to a reasonable level. We also want to reduce any unpleasant side
effects from pain medicine.
Pain medicine may be given through your IV during your surgery and in the
recovery room. Once you arrive on the inpatient unit, you may get IV pain
medicine or pain pills. Other options include an epidural (“epi-dur-al”) or a nerve
block. It depends on the type of surgery you have. An epidural is numbing
medicine given into a small catheter in your back near your spine. A nerve block
is medicine given into your operative arm or leg. This can be a one-time shot or a
continuous infusion. In most cases, the epidural will be turned off the morning
after surgery. The nerve block infusion may be turned off one to two days after
Our goal is to have you take pain pills as soon as you can because pills provide
longer lasting pain control. Pain pills start to work within an hour and last longer
than IV pain medicine. Some people may receive two types of pain pills. One is a
long-acting pill that you receive two times a day and lasts about 12 hours. The
second type is a short-acting pill that you ask your nurse for when you need it. It
lasts 3-4 hours. You should let your nurse know about your pain before it
There are other pain control options that can be used along with your pain
medicine to help control your pain. These include:
ξ Cold or warm packs
ξ Deep breathing exercises
ξ Imagery, which is using your imagination to create mental pictures or
situations to help reduce your pain
ξ Changing position in bed
ξ Distraction, such as watching TV or reading a book
You may want to combine some of these methods to see what works best for you.
Please let us know if there are pain treatments that have been helpful to you in the
past. There isn’t one plan that works for all and it often takes a while to find what
works best for you.
Your health care team may have given you this information as part of your care. If so, please use it and call if you
have any questions. If this information was not given to you as part of your care, please check with your doctor. This
is not medical advice. This is not to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. Because each
person’s health needs are different, you should talk with your doctor or others on your health care team when using
this information. If you have an emergency, please call 911. Copyright © 7/2015 University of Wisconsin Hospitals
and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#6962