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Pain After Surgery (cont.)

Self-Care at Home

The doctor may prescribe pain medication based on the severity of your pain.

  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is a common over-the-counter pain medication used to treat mild to moderate pain. Follow the doctor’s directions.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), and naproxen (Anaprox, Aleve) are over-the-counter and prescription pain medications used to treat mild to moderate pain.
  • Opiates, such as morphine (Roxanol), fentanyl (Sublimaze), oxycodone (Percolone), and levorphanol (Levo-Dromoran), are used to treat moderate to severe pain and breakthrough pain. These medications are available in pill, patch, and injectable forms. These medications may be used in a combination pill with acetaminophen, NSAIDs, or aspirin to treat moderate to severe pain. Some examples include oxycodone and acetaminophen (Percocet), hydrocodone and acetaminophen (Vicodin), and acetaminophen and codeine (Tylenol with Codeine).

One standard plan for pain management after surgery is acetaminophen (Tylenol) or an NSAID (such as ibuprofen) prescribed at a regular interval for a set number of days, and an opiate or opiate combination pill prescribed for breakthrough pain. An example might be ibuprofen 600 mg every 6 hours for 4 days, with oxycodone 5 mg 1-2 tablets every 4 hours as needed for severe pain. In this example, ibuprofen is taken for 4 days every 6 hours whether or not pain is present, and oxycodone is available for when pain is felt despite the ibuprofen pain medication. Indeed, many different medication plans are similar to this example and work just as well. Review your pain management plan with the doctor before and after surgery.

Many people do not want to take their prescribed pain medications for fear of becoming addicted. Becoming addicted to a pain medication when it is used for pain is very rare. In fact, not using the pain medication can be more dangerous. Some pain may prevent you from taking deep breaths and increase the risk of pneumonia. Other times, pain may prevent you from resuming your daily activities such as walking, eating, and sleeping. These activities are important for a healthy recovery from surgery.

In addition to pain medications, following the doctor’s and/or surgeon’s instructions for wound care and dressing changes is important.

  • Rest the part of your body that underwent surgery and, if possible, elevate that part above the heart if the doctor tells you to do so.
  • Keep the wound clean and dry.
  • Other methods for reducing pain may be prescribed by the doctor, including application of ice wrapped in a towel (during the first 1-2 days) or warm compresses (after 2 days), movement or splinting, relaxation therapy, or other treatments.
  • If a particular diet was prescribed, following it is important, especially if you had abdominal surgery.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 8/31/2015
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