Post Surgical Pain

Post Surgical Pain is a complex response to tissue trauma during surgery that stimulates hypersensitivity of the central nervous system. The result is pain in areas not directly affected by the surgical procedure. Postoperative pain may be experienced by an inpatient or outpatient. It can be felt after any surgical procedure, whether it is minor dental surgery or a triple-bypass heart operation.


  • After surgery, a patient should not have to endure severe pain. A reasonable comfort level can be reached in most cases. Prudent pain management will allow the patient to eat, sleep, move, and begin doing normal activities even while in the hospital, and especially when returning home. Recovery may take several weeks after surgery; however, the patient should be made comfortable with a regime of oral pain medications.



  • Crombie et al. Cut and thrust: Antecedent surgery and trauma among patients attending a chronic pain clinic. Pain 1998; 76:167-71
  • Perkins FM, Kehlet H. Chronic pain as an outcome of surgery. Anaesthesiology 2000; 93:1123-33
  • Bruce et al. Persisting chest and leg pain following cardiac surgery. Pain 2003;104:265-73


If you have a chronic pain condition, your body may be under additional stress because following surgery you’ll likely feel the pain you’ve been experiencing, as well as pain associated with the surgery.

In addition, people with chronic pain conditions often take medication to manage it. Long-term use of pain medication can lead to medication tolerance, meaning the drugs don’t work as well as they once did to block pain and that greater dosages are needed to get the same effect. This makes post-surgery discomfort much more difficult to manage. With prior knowledge of your condition, Fraifeld says, your doctor has the opportunity to coordinate with other care providers managing your chronic pain and to choose medications that will help to keep you comfortable. 

Anxiety and depression can make pain worse and much more difficult to manage. Understandably, both are very common in people having surgery.

But there is hope. There are various therapies available to treat the symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Social issues can also emotional issues. For example, an elderly person who is having surgery to fix a broken a hip may realize that the incident will require him or her to change living conditions. A parent who has four children at home to care for will understandably feel anxious about their kids’ well-being while they are away undergoing surgery. These issues should be openly discussed with your doctors and nurses as well.

“Sometimes you have to bring in social workers, family, and other members of the community,” Fraifeld says. “It’s difficult for physicians to be responsible for all the social issues, but you at least have to be cognizant of them and to just look into alternative ways to work around these other problems.” 

Managing anxiety and depression after surgery, whether with medication or social support often reduces the need for pain medication, Fraifeld says, and is extremely important for long-term recovery.

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