September 1, 2020

What is acute post-surgical pain?

Reviewed by the Transitional Pain Service team at the Toronto General Hospital
The contents of this website are for informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
If you have ever had surgery in the past, then you already know that it can hurt. Most surgeries have the negative side effect of pain, which is most commonly referred to as acute post-surgical pain. With most surgical interventions, the doctor sedates you so that the procedure can be performed. The sedation allows for the doctor to perform the surgery to fix what needs to be corrected. After the surgery, the pain you may experience will be largely due to inflammation.
What is inflammation and why do I have it?
Inflammation is a natural part of your body's recovery process. When your tissue is cut during a surgical procedure, your body automatically responds by healing the wound. Your body will send out red blood cells to stop the bleeding, and white blood cells to heal the affected area. The healing process that occurs in your blood stream causes the area to turn red and warm. You will be able to see that the skin is attempting to heal over the wound.

Inflammation is often viewed as a negative part of surgery, when it is actually a part of the natural process that promotes healing. However, acute post-surgical pain can also be present in the area that was operated on. This is an expected result of your surgical procedure and can be treated as a sign that the healing process is beginning to take effect.
Patient suffering from chronic neck pain post surgery
How long should inflammation last?
While every patient responds differently, the inflammatory response post-surgery should last for a few weeks. Studies have shown that post-surgical inflammation generally lasts up to three weeks after the procedure. That said, proper recovery and care should be observed so that the acute post-surgical pain will subside within this timeframe.
How can I manage my post-surgical pain?
Effective pain management should be a part of your overall post-surgery care plan. Holistic pain management following your surgery can be performed in a variety of ways, such as gentle exercise, physiotherapy, massage therapy, acupuncture, and mindfulness. Many adults are given medications to alleviate the pain and speed up the recovery process, but these can have side effects. Finding the right option for you can take some time, and will depend on a number of factors. Before undertaking any form of pain management, it is important to consult with your doctor, who will provide you with the best option to manage your pain. Here are some of the most common acute post-surgical pain management methods today:
  • 1
    Typically, post-surgical pain is caused by inflammation around the surgical incision. This inflammation can spread to various parts of the body. Keeping this inflammation at bay is important to reduce acute pain and prevent it from becoming chronic. Your doctor will most likely prescribe medications to help decrease the inflammation your body generates. You may also be prescribed pain medications, depending on the severity of the pain you are experiencing.
  • 2
    Physiotherapy and Gentle Exercise
    When adults experience pain following a surgery, it is common to avoid any kind of movement. However, exercise should be an important part of your pain management after your operation. If you had a hip, knee, or any other joint replacement surgery, regular and continuous exercise can help boost your overall strength and maintain your mobility. Exercise is a major player in the management of pain for most surgical interventions and is generally performed under the guidance of a healthcare professional. It is best to consult with your physician following surgery in order to come up with a safe exercise rehabilitation plan.

    Physiotherapy is a growing field under pain management. Physiotherapists are highly qualified healthcare professionals who help improve a patient's functional capacity as well as manage their pain. Through the use of gentle movements and muscle strengthening techniques, a physiotherapist can assist with most acute post-surgical procedures. If you have pain associated with a surgery, consider discussing this with a physiotherapist.
  • 3
    Massage Therapy and Acupuncture
    Massage therapy is a widely known holistic treatment that can help alleviate pain. While most adults flock to massage therapy in order to relax, it can also help to reduce the intensity and severity of your pain following a surgery. Consider this as another option to lessen pain intensity following a surgical intervention.
What can make my pain worse?
While it is encouraging to know that surgery can correct and improve your health in a number of ways, it is also important to know that there are some things that can make your pain worse. One of the most common ways that will make your pain worse is by not moving. In certain situations, the lack of movement can make the pain worse. For this reason, it is important to follow your pain management plan closely so that your pain does not worsen over time.