Setting Pain Goals after Orthopedic Spine Surgery
Pain control is a key part of your care after surgery that can help speed recovery and improve the
results of your surgery. This handout was written to help you understand how pain is managed
after surgery. It describes:
Setting realistic goals for pain control
How pain is managed
Realistic Goals for Pain Control
It is very hard to safely do away with all of your pain. We want to keep you safe and make you
as comfortable as we can. To help make this happen, we want to teach you about what to expect
and how to set realistic goals for pain control. You are a vital part of your pain management
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.
0-10 Number Pain Scale
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
No Mild Moderate Severe Worst
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), we want to reduce it 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 6/10, and your activity goal may be to sit up in
the chair for all meals. At the end of the day, you should reflect on your progress and decide if
your pain goal was realistic and whether or not you need to change your pain goal.
How Pain is managed after Orthopedic Spine Surgery
There are a number of options your doctor may choose from to manage your pain. Your doctor
may discuss these options with you before surgery. Our goal is to manage and reduce your pain
to a reasonable level and control any unpleasant side effects from the pain medicines.
Pain medicine may be given through your IV during your operation and in the recovery room.
Once you arrive on the inpatient unit, you may continue to receive IV pain medicine or pain
pills. IV pain medicine can be given by your nurse or by a Patient Controlled Analgesia (PCA)
pump. The PCA pump lets the patient get a set amount of IV pain medicine at preset time
Our goal is to have you take pain pills as soon as you are able because pills provide longer
lasting pain control. Pain pills start to work within an hour and give you better pain
management than IV pain medicine. Oral pain pills are short-acting and last 3 to 4 hours and is
something you ask your nurse for when you need it. You should let your nurse know about your
pain before it becomes severe.
There are other pain control options that can be used along with your pain medicine to help
control your pain. These include:
Cold or warm packs
Deep breathing exercises
Imagery, which is using your imagination to create mental pictures or situations to help
reduce your pain
Distraction such as watching TV or reading a book
To help you, we offer 3 special TV channels:
1. The C.A.R.E. channel (number 74 on your TV); which provides a continuous relaxation
2. The Healing Images channel (number 73 on your TV); which includes breathing, meditation,
and imagery exercises.
3. The Chuckle Channel (number 69 on your TV); which offers light-hearted distraction with
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 is
no one best plan that works 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 ©7/2017 University of Wisconsin Hospitals and
Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#7024