One of the best ways to ease anxiety about a major event, like surgery, is to plan ahead. Conversations about postsurgical pain management need to happen before your procedure, so you can focus on your recovery after surgery is complete.
Here are 9 questions you should ask your attending health care professional before having surgery.
What should I do before my surgery?
Make sure you understand your health care provider's instructions about eating and drinking. Anesthesia administered during surgery may require you to have an empty stomach.
What can I expect on the day of my surgery?
Preemptive or preventive pain relievers may be given, in addition to general anesthesia or other sedatives before surgery. Local anesthetics may be used during surgery to numb the area and help control pain. These may be placed directly into the surgical site, into or around a nerve ("nerve block") or close to the spinal cord ("epidural"). Ask your health care provider to walk you through the pain management plan so there are no surprises.
How much discomfort is usually associated with this procedure?
This will depend on the type of procedure you're having and the pain medications used before, during and after your surgery. Be sure and talk with your health care provider so you will know what to expect and be familiar with all of your options for pain management.
How will my pain be managed after surgery?
Depending on the type of procedure you're having, a combination of medications may be used before, during and after surgery to block the various sources and pathways of pain. Essentially, these drugs may work in different areas or in different ways to better address your specific needs. Ask your health care provider about the risks and benefits of each medication being used along the way.
How will we measure my pain?
One of the best signs of proper pain management is being able to start moving and resume normal activities. You may also be periodically asked to measure your pain on a scale from 1 to 10 (with 10 being the worst pain and anything above 7 being severe). If you're taking pain medication, it's important to stay ahead of your pain and not let your pain levels get out of control.
What do you need to know about me to individualize my treatment plan?
Sharing information about yourself and your medical history will help your surgeon better understand your treatment needs and tailor a pain management plan that's right for you. Let your health care provider know if you are:
- Allergic to certain medications
- Pregnant or breastfeeding, or planning for either
- Taking other pain medications
- Nervous about taking narcotic medications, or if you've had a previous negative experience
- Sleep apneic
- Asthmatic, or have COPD or other breathing problems
- Suffering from a stomach ulcer or other gastrointestinal problems
- Currently taking blood thinners or medications for other conditions
- Or have ever been diagnosed with heart, liver, or kidney disease
How can I minimize exposure to narcotics? What options do I have?
There are a variety of products your surgeon may give you before and during surgery to minimize your need for narcotics after surgery, including local anesthetics. Local anesthetics are numbing medications that can be used to numb the area where you had surgery from anywhere between a few hours to a few days. These may be placed directly into the surgical site, into or around a nerve ("nerve block") or close to the spinal cord (epidural). If long-lasting local anesthetics are used during your procedure to numb the surgical site, you may require less narcotic pain medication afterwards.
After surgery, there are several non-narcotic options that may be appropriate for you, including common over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers like acetaminophen, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen. These may be prescribed in higher doses than the OTC dosages. All can help control mild to moderate pain. Aspirin may also help prevent blood clots, while NSAIDs may help reduce swelling and inflammation. Once you're in the recovery room, your pain medication may be given orally (by mouth) or through an IV (a tube feeding into a vein). Here is more information about postsurgical pain management options.
What side effects can I expect?
The kinds of side effects you may experience will depend on the type of medications used before, during and after your surgery. For example, narcotics may cause constipation, nausea and vomiting, while nerve blocks can cause muscle weakness. Ask your health care provider about the side effects that can be expected with all the pain medications you will receive.
How will I manage pain at home?
Before you leave the hospital, make sure you feel 100 percent comfortable about how your pain will be managed at home. In most cases, you will be given a prescription for pain medication before or after surgery. You may be able to fill the prescription at the hospital pharmacy or it may be sent in to your local pharmacy for pickup on your way home. Making sure you have your pain medication in hand when you reach home, will help you stay ahead of your pain and not let it get out of control. Before you take your medication, be sure to read the enclosed instructions about how often to take the medication and what side effects to look for. If you have any questions about your pain medication, ask your local pharmacist or your health care professional.
This is for general information only and does not constitute specific medical advice. If you have postsurgical pain, you should consult with your health care provider.
This resource was created with the support of Pacira Pharmaceuticals.