Authored by Revere Health

What You Should Know About Pain Management After Surgery

January 31, 2019 | Orthopedics


The rate of prescription drug abuse has increased drastically over the past 15 years, illustrated by an increased number of emergency room visits, overdoses and treatment admissions associated with prescription drug misuse. Opioids are the most dangerous of prescription drugs—the rate of opioid overdose deaths have increased by five times from 1999 to 2016—but they can be effective when taken safely and under a doctor’s supervision. However, other pain management solutions are also available.



There is a reason that healthcare professionals continue to prescribe opioid pain medications for the surgical recovery process: they work, and they work well. Opioids not only block the pain but also change the way your brain perceives pain. This type of relief allows you to remain active during the day and get much-needed rest at night.

Some people experience negative side effects when taking opioids, including but not limited to:

  • Confusion
  • Nausea
  • Drowsiness
  • Itching
  • Constipation
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty urinating

Your doctor can easily treat each of the above side effects, but the most dangerous side effect is dependency. Because of the high potential for misuse of opioids, healthcare providers, researchers and regulatory agencies actively seek alternative approaches to post-surgery pain management.

Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)

NSAIDs, like aspirin or ibuprofen, are sold over the counter and can be used to manage mild to moderate pain. Doctors also recommend them to reduce swelling and soreness.

When used alone and for a short period of time, NSAIDs are relatively harmless. They come with far fewer adverse side effects than opioids and, if used immediately after surgery, may reduce one’s need for opioids entirely. NSAIDs are not habit-forming drugs, but they can be dangerous when taken in large amounts or when mixing them with other medications. Talk to your doctor about your current conditions and other medications to see which NSAIDs are appropriate for you.


OrthoInfo, the blog for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, also suggests transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) and continuous passive motion (CPM) for pain management after orthopedic surgery. TENS transmits low-level electrical charges to the area of your body that is in pain. The warm, tingling sensation it creates essentially blocks the pain sensation from reaching your brain.

Continuous passive motion therapy involves the constant movement of a joint using a machine that moves your joint for you to prevent stiffness, which research suggests increases pain post-surgery. In addition to relieving pain, CPM is also believed to improve the nutrition of your joint and discourage the formation of scar tissue.

Depending on the nature of your surgery and your current state of health, pain relief via opioids may be the most appropriate option. However, it’s important to discuss all viable options with your healthcare provider before surgery. You and your doctor can come up with a pain management plan that works for you and the type of surgery you are having.


Dr. Larsen chose to become an orthopedic surgeon after growing up watching his father work in the same profession. He observed the love his father had for taking care of people and improving lives by fixing problems with their knees and shoulders. Dr. Larsen enjoys communicating with his patients and working together to find a solution, either through surgery or lifestyle changes.



“Mayo Clinic Q&A: Vaping health risks for teens.” Mayo Clinic.

“Electronic cigarettes: Not a safe way to light up.” Mayo Clinic.

“Teen Vaping: What You Should Know.” WebMD.

“Talk With Your Teen About E-cigarettes: A Tip Sheet for Parents.” SurgeonGeneral.Gov


Mitchell Larsen, MD


Mitchell Larsen, MD

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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.