Pain Medication After Surgery

Pain Medication After Surgery

Bullet Point Summary - 

  • Different types of pain medications are used, including opioids, NSAIDs, anesthetics, psychoactive drugs, and non-opioid pain relievers.
  • Opioids are strong painkillers but carry risks of addiction and overdose, so they are typically prescribed for short-term use.
  • Non-drug techniques like guided imagery, heat or cold therapy, and TENS can provide additional pain relief when used alongside medications.
  • Physical therapy is beneficial for post-surgical pain management, helping restore range of motion, improve mobility, and provide targeted exercises.

Although surgeries improve your quality of life and relieve pain, you may still feel post-surgical pain depending on the procedure's invasiveness. Recovery may be challenging. But, with proper pain management, you should experience progressive healing and pain relief in no time. This article explores pain medications for post-surgical pain relief. We also discuss non-drug relief methods and how Bedford physical therapy can help.

Why is Pain Management After Surgery Necessary?

Pain after surgery is quite normal. However, pain management is crucial to the recovery process. With the proper pain medication, you can heal faster, regain mobility, and improve your overall well-being. In addition to pain medication, you can get professional help at Barkman & Smith Physical Therapy to restore your range of motion and speed up your recovery.

How to Plan for Surgery

Managing pain after surgery starts with planning for the surgery. Before the surgery, discussing your pain expectations and previous experience with your surgeon is best. You should also list medications you already use, including prescription, over-the-counter, supplements, and herbal products. Some drugs interact with post-surgical pain medications and may affect your body's response.

In addition, if you have chronic pain, inform your doctor about your pain levels and daily medication usage. Tell your doctor in Bedford if you also have a history of drug misuse or addiction. Some medications like naltrexone are used for addiction and may have implications for your surgery.

Another way to plan for your surgery is to let your doctor know about your alcohol and tobacco use. Alcohol and tobacco can increase the side effects of certain post-surgery pain medications. Discussing your concerns with side effects and overdosing on your prescribed pain medication with your doctor would be best. Your doctor can help you understand strategies to manage your pain.

After your surgery, be honest about where you feel pain and the intensity. You should also inform your doctor about the positions improving or worsening pain. The more specific you are, the better your doctors can help you.

Types of Pain Medication Prescribed After Surgery

There are different types of pain medication used to alleviate discomfort post-surgery. However, these medications have their benefits, risks, and side effects. The most common pain medication after surgery is opioids, NSAIDs, and anesthetics.


Opioids are effective in relieving moderate to severe pain. These drugs block the transmission of pain signals to the brain. Your doctor may administer opioids intravenously, or you may take them orally or as a suppository. Common opioids include morphine, codeine, fentanyl, methadone, and hydrocodone.

It is important to note that tramadol is also an opioid, although synthetic. Therefore, it works differently from other opioids. Tramadol is usually more effective when taken with NSAIDs or acetaminophen.

Opioids are the strongest painkillers. Therefore, they are often prescribed for short-term use because of the severe risk of overdose and addiction. High doses of these drugs can be fatal, and when combined with alcohol or other drugs, it can increase the risk of death.

The side effects of opioids include constipation, dry mouth, confusion, itching, depression, nausea, and increased sensitivity to pain.

Local and Regional Anesthetics

Local anesthetics block pain in a specific body area. Regional anesthetics relieve pain in larger areas of the body. Your doctor in Bedford will administer the anesthetic by injecting the nerves surrounding the surgery site. The anesthetic works for several hours, numbing the nerves and blocking pain. Common anesthetics include lidocaine, ropivacaine, and bupivacaine.

Local anesthetics also have side effects, including nerve damage, muscle spasms, and convulsions. Some people also have allergic reactions to the anesthetic and may suffer a collapsed lung if the injection is in the chest area.


Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) reduce swelling and inflammation. These drugs are usually combined with opioids to manage moderate to severe pain post-surgery. Although NSAIDs do not relieve severe pain alone, they may reduce the need for opioids, reducing dependency.

Common NSAIDs your doctor may prescribe include ibuprofen, ketorolac, aspirin, and naproxen sodium. You may take these drugs orally, as a suppository, or through intravenous infusion. NSAIDs are also available as topical gels or solutions. NSAIDs' side effects and risks include stomach upset, ulcers, and bleeding.

Psychoactive Drugs

Psychoactive drugs, known as psychotropics, can help relieve nerve pain. These drugs affect mental function, including emotions, perception, and consciousness. Psychotropics are often administered through an injection or as an oral pill.

Common psychoactive drugs include midazolam, ziconotide, and pregabalin. The possible side effects of these drugs include movement changes, headaches, thirst, and appetite changes.

Non-Opioid Pain Relievers

Non-opioid pain relievers reduce swelling and inflammation. They are often prescribed for mild to moderate pain. Non-opioid pain relievers are usually available over the counter, and popular ones include acetaminophen and Ketamine.


Acetaminophen is a popular non-opioid pain reliever that blocks the production of prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are associated with the body's response to injury and inflammation. Acetaminophen is often prescribed after surgery alongside opioids to increase the absorption of opioids. The drug lowers high body temperatures and increases pain threshold.

Acetaminophen is often prescribed for short-term use. Long-term use or high doses of this drug may cause liver damage. Other side effects of acetaminophen include constipation, vomiting, abdominal pain, blood disorders, nausea, and skin rash.


Ketamine blocks the signaling pathway that some body cells associate with pain. This drug is often prescribed in low doses alone or alongside other pain medications. Ketamine is safe and has fewer side effects when taken with opioids or injectable NSAIDs.

The most common side effects of Ketamine include dysphoria, confusion, drowsiness, dizziness, nausea, and vomiting.

What is the Best Pain Medication After Surgery?

Everyone's pain is unique. Therefore, your doctor will consider several factors before prescribing a pain reliever. These factors include your type of surgery, its invasiveness, your medical history, and the intensity of your pain. With a tailored treatment plan, your doctor can prescribe the best pain reliever for you with minimal risks and side effects.

Your doctor may also prescribe a combination of treatments to lessen side effects and help you control pain. Consequently, you should experience lower risks associated with opioids and resume activities appropriate for your recovery.

How to Manage the Risks of Opioid Use

Opioids are the strongest painkillers, and they are often prescribed post-surgery. However, due to their strength, these drugs have significant side effects. Your doctor will prescribe the smallest effective dose for the shortest possible time to prevent the risks of addiction and overdose.

Other precautions when using opioids include;

  • Take the medication precisely as prescribed by your doctor. Use a minimal dose for the length of time directed.
  • Avoid alcohol when taking these drugs
  • Inform your doctor when your pain is not under control
  • Do not share your medication with other people even if they have the same symptoms as you do
  • Inform your doctor of any side effects promptly

Non-Drug Pain Relief After Surgery

There are non-drug techniques, including mental and physical practices, for improving pain after surgery. These techniques drastically reduce pain when used in combination with pain medications. Non-drug pain relief includes guided imagery and relaxation media, hot or cold therapy, and TENS.

Guided Imagery and Relaxation Media

This technique helps you focus on mental images that bring peace and calm. You may also listen to relaxing music or sounds. A coach may work with you to help you focus on the images in your mind and relax to ease the pain.

Heat or Cold Therapy

Although heat or cold therapy can help ease pain and reduce swelling, ask your doctor if it is right. Heat or cold therapy involves applying heat from a hot water bottle or cold from an ice pack to the inflammation site. Avoid applying the heat source directly to your skin when using either of the therapies. It is best to wrap it in a towel first.

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS)

TENS is a battery-powered device that delivers low-level electricity to the painful site. The electricity levels are safe and create a warm, tingly feeling. TENS floods your nerves with a different sensation, making your brain unable to recognize pain temporarily.

This non-drug relief technique may also raise the amount of endorphins in your body, relieving pain. Endorphins are the body's natural painkillers. You can apply TENS to the painful site for 5-15 minutes.

Do You Need Physical Therapy in Post-Surgical Pain Management?

Yes, physical therapy can help with pain management after surgery. Back pain therapy - Bedford, TX, complements pain medication to relieve your pain and speed your recovery. The therapy includes techniques, modalities, and exercises suited to you.

Physical therapy can be used as a standalone treatment or in addition to pain medication to provide pain relief.


Managing your pain after surgery is essential for fast recovery and improved comfort. The best pain medication for you depends on the severity of your pain, the invasiveness of your procedure, and your medical history. Besides pain medication, Barkman & Smith Physical Therapy offers services to nurse you back to health and help you regain your range of motion.