Pain control following surgery

Good pain relief is important. It prevents suffering and helps you recover more quickly.

Will I have any pain after the operation?

The amount of pain you experience will depend on the type of the surgery you have had and your mood.

Anxiety is known to worsen pain. It is not uncommon to feel anxious after an operation but you are less likely to feel anxious if you know what to expect.

You can work with your doctors and nurses before and after surgery to help control your pain.

Your pain needs to be well controlled after surgery so that you can start walking, do your breathing exercises and get your strength back more quickly. You may also avoid problems like chest infections, which are more likely to occur if you are unable to breathe deeply or move because of pain.

Assessing your pain

Your involvement in your pain control is important because pain is such a personal experience.

Following your operation, the nurses may ask you to score your pain using a 0–10 scale. At first you may be asked to score your pain quite regularly.

Your pain scores will be recorded on a chart which will help the doctors and nurses know whether your pain treatments are working.

What treatments can control my pain?

Both drug and non-drug treatments can be successful in helping to control pain.

In most cases drugs are given to control pain for a few days after surgery. However, non-drug treatments can be just as important in helping to control pain.

These may involve relaxation and distraction techniques as well as learning how to support your wound during movement.

Both you and your doctors and nurses will work together to select the best drug and non-drug treatments for your particular surgical pain.

Drug treatment to control pain

If at any time you find it difficult to move or breathe deeply because of pain, you must tell the nurses so that they can review your pain control.

Pain should be treated early rather than allowing it to become worse.

If your pain is well controlled you will be able to move and do your breathing exercises. This will prevent problems like chest infections which may extend your stay in hospital.

Many people fear that they may become addicted to pain killers. This is very rare and usually linked to previous drug abuse.

Some people also feel that pain is the body’s way of stopping them doing too much before the healing process is complete. Taking pain killers will not interfere with the healing process.

The type of drugs you will be given will depend on the extent of your surgery and the amount of pain you have. There are many different types of pain killers and your doctors and nurses will choose the best ones to control your pain after talking to you about it.

More detailed information about the different types of analgesics can be found in our guide: Your Operation and Anaesthetic.

Non-drug treatment to control pain

Non-drug treatments include some complementary therapies that can be effective for mild to moderate pain and boost the pain-relief effects of drugs. They include:

  • simple relaxation techniques such as abdominal breathing, visualization exercises, and listening to relaxing music
  • supporting your wound when coughing, deep breathing and moving after surgery
  • massage, which works on the muscles to release excess tension and can help with relaxation.

You can discuss these with your nurse before your operation. As other complementary therapies may not be suitable to use immediately after surgery, you should check first with your doctor or nurse.

If you are having a major operation, a physiotherapist will visit you before and afterwards. The physiotherapist will teach you breathing exercises and how to support your wound when moving.

Royal Marsden Macmillan Hotline

Hotline information

This service provides specialist advice and support to all Royal Marsden patients, their carers, and hospital and community-based doctors and nurses caring for Royal Marsden patients, and can advise on pain control following surgery. You can call 24 hours a day, seven days a week on 020 8915 6899.