Postoperative Pain Management: What it Is and Why Is It Important?

Postoperative Pain Management: What it Is and Why Is It Important?

Published: October 30, 2020

After surgery, pain is natural. Managing and controlling that pain is crucial to your healing and recovery. More than 80% of patients report pain after surgery.  While you should expect some pain after surgery, your physician will take proper precautions and every effort to lessen your pain.

Managing pain after surgery is the most effective way to ensure a healthy recovery. Having a postoperative treatment plan may help reduce the risk of developing complications. When your pain is properly managed, your quality of life will be restored, and important tasks like walking can be resumed normally. 

Postoperative Pain and Pain Management

Pain after surgery may surprise you. Oftentimes, the painful area is not where the surgery was performed, but instead, referred pain. This means the pain is experienced somewhere other than the affected area. Referred pain occurs because of how pain signals travel along you nerves. 

Other types of pain you may experience after surgery are: 

  • Muscle Pain: Lying in a chair or operating table can result in pain in your neck, shoulders, back, or chest. 
  • Throat Pain: After surgery, you may experience scratchiness or dryness in your throat. This can make it sore and uncomfortable. 
  • Movement Pain: Moving and performing important tasks like sitting, walking, and even basic movements like arms and feet can cause pain at or around the incision site or affected area.  

Treatment Options for Pain Relief

The goal of pain management after surgery is to relieve an uncomfortable, painful experience and to control pain. However, when there is postoperative pain, you might think the surgery was a failure. Pain after major surgery is to be expected. Your doctor will work with you to determine the best course of action and an effective treatment plan. 

Nerve Blocks

Your doctor may recommend a nerve block to control your pain after surgery. Nerve blocks are minimally invasive injections that block pain signals from reaching your brain. This type of treatment helps cut down on the amount of pain medication you will need to take. 

Over-the-Counter Pain Medication

Your doctor will likely order over-the-counter pain medications to help relieve your pain after surgery. These medications often include anti-inflammatory medications such as Advil and pain relievers like Tylenol. Over-the-counter medications have minor side effects, if any at all, and are safe to take without the risk of forming an addictive habit. Be sure to follow your doctor’s instructions 

At-Home Techniques

There are a number of at-home techniques designed to help relieve pain during recovery. 

  • Relaxation Techniques: Listening to calming music, biofeedback, and meditation a few of the ways you can relieve your pain at home. Learning to focus your attention on something other than your pain is a natural way to lessen your pain. 
  • Heat & Cold Therapy: This is an option to reduce swelling and control your pain at home. Your doctor will advise you on how to do this at home. Sometimes only heat, only cold, or an alternating method of both can be effective. 
  • Exercise: As your healing permits, slowly incorporating low-impact cardio and strength-training exercises help your body reduce pain. Exercise releases endorphins which act as your body’s natural opiate, therefore lessening your pain and discomfort. Exercise should only be done once your doctor has cleared you to resume normal activity. Always consult your physician before beginning an exercise routine.  


Regardless of how your postoperative pain is managed, make sure you are comfortable with the treatment plan. Keep open lines of communication with your doctor and nurses to address any concerns or issues that may arise. Stress, anxiety, and miscommunication can all make your pain worse and cause a negative healing experience. 



Cleveland Clinic: Pain Control After Surgery

Mayo Clinic: Pain Medications

Practical Pain Management: Post Op Pain Management

Physio-Pedia: Referred Pain

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