How do I deal with pain after an operation?
Pain after an operation (post-op pain) is normal and expected. The provided guidelines below should help you stay as comfortable as possible after a procedure.
Managing Post-Op Pain at Home: Medications
Take your medications on time. Do not wait until the pain is severe.
Taking Pain Medications
- Take medications on time. Do not take more than prescribed.
- Take only the medications that your healthcare provider tells you to take.
- Take pain medications with some food to avoid an upset stomach.
- Don’t drink alcohol while using pain medications.
Types of Pain Medications
- These medications can be either over-the-counter (such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen) or prescription
- All of these medications relieve mild to moderate pain and some reduce swelling
- Possible side effects include upset stomach and bleeding
- These medications are always prescription
- Relieve severe pain
- Possible side effects include upset stomach, nausea, and itching
- May cause constipation (to help prevent this, eat high-fiber foods and drink plenty of water)
Call your doctor if you are experiencing any of these symptoms:
- Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, lasting constipation, or stomach cramps
- Breathing problems or a fast heart rate
- Feeling very tired, sluggish, or dizzy
- Skin rash
Managing Post-Op Pain at Home: Non-Medication Relief
Medications are not the only way to manage pain after surgery. Try the following non-medication based techniques.
Ice or Heat
Use one of the two options below as needed (but for no longer than 20 minutes at a time):
- Ice pack or bag of frozen peas wrapped in a thin cloth
- Covered heating pad (not too hot)
Visualization can help take your mind off the pain:
- Close your eyes and breathe deeply
- Picture yourself in a quiet, peaceful place
- Imagine how you feel in that place
- Keep a clear mind
Progressive Body Relaxation
Relaxation can help relieve stress and pain. Try doing the following:
- Close your eyes and clench your foot muscles
- Hold for a few seconds, then release
- Repeat with the muscles in your calves
- Work slowly up your body with your other muscles
Deep breathing can relax your whole body. To deep breathe, do the following:
- Inhale slowly and deeply as you count to 5
- Hold your breath for a couple of seconds
- Exhale through your mouth as you count to 10
- Repeat as necessary
Managing Pain After Amputation Surgery
Describing the location and nature of your pain helps your healthcare team decide how best to treat you. As with any surgery, pain after amputation can be controlled. Explaining where the pain is, how it feels, and how severe the pain is can let the healthcare team know the best way to treat your pain.
Types of Residual Limb Pain
Pain in your residual limb can be coming from different places. The following are the most common sources of limb pain after amputation:
- Skin can be very sensitive after amputation and the pain can feel sharp or irritating
- Nerve pain can range from tingling to feeling like an electric shock; the source of nerve pain may be a neuroma, which results when the ends of cut nerves grow into a painful ball under the skin
- Muscle pain can feel like aching and cramping
- Bone pain can occur if the end of the bone presses against the socket of your prosthesis and may cause deep or sharp pain
Explaining Your Pain
Pain relief plays a big part in your recovery, so be honest when your doctor or nurse asks about your pain. On a scale of 0 to10 (if 0 means no pain, and 10 is the worst pain), how does it feel? Is it aching, burning, sharp, twisting, dull, or does it feel like an electric shock? How often do you feel this pain? Make sure to answer these questions.
Your doctor may need to try different medications or dosages. This can help find the most effective way to treat your pain. The most common pain medications used after surgery are opioids (narcotics). Opioids block pain signals on their way to the brain. This means they can control even severe pain. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may also be used. Like opioids, NSAIDs block pain signals on their way to the brain. Your doctor may also try antidepressants or anticonvulsant medications. They are commonly used to treat depression and seizure. But they have proven effective at relieving pain related to amputation. There are other things your doctor may recommend if medications do not help control your pain. Here are some common examples:
- TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation)
The Pain Is Telling You Something!
Pain is your body’s way of pointing out a problem. So don’t try to “tough it out.” If your pain is not lessening after treatment, make sure to tell your healthcare professional. Medications and other treatments can be adjusted to meet your needs. Remember that the goal of amputation is to help restore function. Work with your amputation team to resolve pain issues as they occur during your recovery.
Phantom Sensation and Phantom Pain After Amputation
Most people who have an amputation will have some degree of phantom sensation. This is when you “feel” the missing part of your limb, manifesting as an itch or tickle. Sometimes it may feel as if the missing portion of your limb is asleep or you may have stronger, painful sensations that seem to come from the missing part of your limb. If it feels like a quick zing or flash up your limb or, if it feels more like burning, twisting, cramping, or aching, it’s called phantom pain. The good news is that persistent phantom pain is far less likely to happen than phantom sensation. And there are things you can do to feel better.
What Causes Phantom Sensation?
No one is sure why phantom sensation happens. One common theory has to do with how nerves that supplied sensation to the missing portion of your limb are still functioning. They are higher up in your leg and the brain may not know how to interpret signals from these nerves. Your brain may think that the signals are coming from the missing part of your limb.
Phantom pain is likely to come and go. It may happen more often at night. Keep in mind that you won’t necessarily have phantom pain after your amputation. It’s far less common than phantom sensation. Phantom pain is most often manageable. But if it becomes hard to live with, talk to your healthcare provider. Once the sutures or staples come out, spend time every day gently rubbing and tapping your residual limb. This will help desensitize it.
Treating Phantom Pain
There are several ways to treat phantom pain. If needed, ask your healthcare provider if any of these options might work for you. The ones listed below are the most common treatments and your healthcare provider may recommend others.
- Medication: Antiseizure medications or antidepressants are often used to treat phantom pain and may work better for this type of pain than normal painkillers
- Frequent touch: Massaging, rubbing, and tapping the end of the residual limb helps with desensitization and can lessen or relieve pain; you may begin massaging your residual limb once the surgical sutures or staples are removed
- Wearing a shrinker sock: Keeping constant pressure on the end of the limb may help to relieve phantom pain
- Using your prosthesis: Like wearing a shrinker sock, using a prosthesis provides steady pressure to the limb and seems to reduce phantom pain for some people