Pain Management after Surgery
This handout explains pain after surgery and what to expect.
Pain is a normal part of healing and common
after surgery. Most patients can have less
pain when they know their options. Less
pain will help you heal faster and get back to
your normal life. It may not be possible to
get rid of all of your pain, but we will work
with you to control your pain so you are able
to do every day things like walk to the
The scale below helps you let your doctor or
nurse know how much pain you have. You
can also use the words mild, moderate, or
severe. Ask for medicine when you first feel
pain. Do not wait until it gets severe.
Talk with your doctor or nurse about:
ξ Where your pain will be and how
much to expect?
ξ Have you had pain medicine before?
What works? What does not?
ξ Do you take over-the-counter
medicine or herbal supplements?
ξ Have you had side effects like
nausea/vomiting, constipation, or
dizziness? Most side effects lessen
over time or can be managed in
Both drug and non-drug treatments can help
with pain. Many people use two or more
methods for the best relief. Each person is
different and has a special plan for pain
Getting Pain Medicine
After some surgeries, patients may need to
take their medicine on a schedule (every 3-6
hours “around the clock” for the first few
ξ People respond differently to the
same dose of medicine. Taking
medicine “around the clock” may not
be safe in patients who are very
sleepy, dizzy, unsteady, or have
If you have pain that is not controlled
or severe/strange side effects and you
are in the hospital, tell your nurse. If
you are at home, call your surgeon’s
Most patients only need opioid pain
medicine for a short time before they
change to other pain relievers.
It is very rare to become addicted to
opioid medicine used for pain after
Take pain medicine with food, unless
told otherwise by your surgeon. This
may help prevent nausea and
Constipation is the most common
Eat foods high in fiber and
drink a lot of fluids.
You may need a stool softener
Opioids can have serious side
effects. They can:
Slow your breathing (Your risk
is higher if you have
obstructive sleep apnea).
Cause respiratory failure
(includes severe breathing
problems and even death).
Make you feel dizzy.
Think about safety.
Do not change positions
quickly (i.e., standing up
quickly after lying down).
Do not drink alcohol.
Have a family member or
friend help you as needed.
Opioid use before surgery
If you take opioid medicine or other pain
medicine before surgery, you may need
higher doses after surgery. Pain control
after surgery may be more of a challenge
with prior opioid use. We will watch
closely to make sure you do not get too
Our goal is to get your pain back to the
level you had before surgery or better.
Again, it may not be possible to fully get
rid of the pain.
Do not take Tylenol (acetaminophen) if
you take medicines that already have
Tylenol in them because you may be
getting an unsafe amount. Do not take more
than 4,000 mg daily. If you have liver
disease, talk to your doctor before taking
Medicines with Tylenol in them include:
Anything with “APAP” or
“Acetaminophen” on the label
Other ways to help pain
ξ relaxed breathing
ξ imagery (imagine a peaceful place)
ξ movies and TV
ξ talking with others
ξ keeping parts of your body elevated
to help with swelling
ξ heat or cold (ask your nurse which is
right for you)
ξ TENS (transcutaneous electrical
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 ©8/2016. University of Wisconsin Hospitals
and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#5910.