Pain after surgery

Also called postoperative pain

Pain after surgery is normal and usually improves as your tissues heal. You may feel worried about managing your pain on discharge from hospital, but there are many things you can do to help manage it.

What kinds of pain will I feel after surgery?

Pain after surgery is referred to as acute pain. This means it is short-lived and usually improves with healing. In most cases, you will feel pain related to the area of your operation.

  • The feeling of pain is different for everyone – it may be dull, stabbing, cramping, throbbing, constant or it may come and go. Read about describing your pain.
  • Sometimes you may feel discomfort in other areas not related to your surgery. For example, you may feel muscle pain in your neck, shoulders, back, or chest from lying on the operating table, or your throat may feel sore or scratchy.
  • Sitting up, walking, and coughing are all important activities after surgery, but they may cause increased pain at or around the operation site.

Be sure to get enough rest and be kind to yourself. Healing and recovery take time. 

Pain-relieving medicines

Following surgery, you will be sent home with medication for pain relief. The purpose of your pain-relieving medicines is to reduce your pain to a level where you can do your normal activities while your body heals.

  • It is important that you take your pain medicines as you have been told to by your doctor, nurse or pharmacist.
  • Initially, you may need to take your medicines regularly, such as every 4 to 6 hours.
  • As your pain improves, and your activity levels increase, you can gradually reduce your dose of your pain medication. The stronger painkillers such as morphine, oxycodone or tramadol should be stopped first, followed by the milder painkillers such as NSAIDs (ibuprofen or diclofenac) and paracetamol. Read more about pain relief medication.
  • If your pain continues and you require more pain-relieving medicines, contact your GP. The hospital should have sent a letter to your GP containing details of the operation you had and the medicines you have been advised to take.    

When is pain after surgery a concern?

Because pain after an operation is normal, its sometimes difficult to know when the pain you are experiencing is a concern. Contact your doctor if:

  • the pain around your operation site becomes more intense and unbearable
  • if you develop pain or swelling in another area not related to your operation 
  • you develop a fever
  • if the side effects from your pain-relieving medicines are troublesome.  

Keeping active

Depending on the type of surgery you've had, your activity levels will vary. But, as far as possible it's important to keep active, as best as you can. You will be given advice about any activities you should avoid and those that you need to take extra care with. Start exercising slowly, using gentle movements and build up gradually. Avoid being immobile or inactive or sitting or sleeping for extended periods of time – this can be harmful as it increases your chances of developing blood clots or deep vein thrombosis. Read more about hospital-related DVT

Learn more

Understanding and managing pain after surgery The British Pain Society

Credits: Health Navigator Editorial Team. Last reviewed: 18 Oct 2017