Post-operative pain

Fast facts about post-operative pain (pain after surgery)

  • In a survey conducted in America, people‚Äôs biggest concern before surgery was that they would experience pain after surgery40
  • 86% of people surveyed experienced mostly moderate to extreme pain after surgery40
  • 75% of people surveyed continued to experience pain after discharge from hospital40
  • Post-operative pain causes anxiety, which causes one to feel more pain, resulting in a vicious pain-anxiety cycle41,42
  • Good post-operative pain control is necessary for uncomplicated healing and can be achieved by matching analgesics to the type of surgery and severity of your pain43,44,45,46

It is normal to experience pain after surgery and to need medicine to control your pain.43 In fact, good control of pain is necessary for the following reasons:43,44

  • It makes you feel more comfortable, reduces your stress and helps with healing
  • It makes it easier to move around or walk, which helps avoid problems such as bedsores, blood clots, and bladder infections
  • It leads to fewer complications, e.g. pneumonia, because you can take deeper breaths
  • You will have a shorter hospital stay and you are likely to recover more quickly at home
  • You are less likely to have chronic pain problems
  • You are likely to use fewer pain medicines than those who try to avoid pain medicine

Several factors determine how much pain you will experience after surgery, so it is a good idea to speak to your doctor about how much pain you should expect and how it will be managed. Keep in mind that:44

  • Some surgeries are more painful than others
  • Longer surgeries can take more out of you and make it harder to deal with pain
  • Each person experiences pain differently

Pain control after surgery

Pain after surgery is usually managed with multiple analgesics.45 Your doctor will decide the appropriate type, delivery and dose, depending on the type of surgery and expected recovery.45 Pain medication is usually matched to the severity of pain (measured on a scale of 0 - 10) and may be given as a single medicine or combination of medicines:44,46

Pain scale

Severity of pain



No pain

No treatment, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or paracetamol


Mild pain

Paracetamol and weak opioids, e.g. codeine and tramadol


Moderate pain

Paracetamol, NSAIDs, codeine, tramadol, morphine, and other strong opioids


Severe pain

Paracetamol, NSAIDs, epidural, nerve blocks, strong opioids

Adapted from the Acute pain guidelines, 201646

Pain-anxiety cycle

Post-operative pain causes anxiety, which causes one to feel more pain, resulting in a vicious pain-anxiety cycle.41,42 Good pain control with combination analgesics will break the pain-anxiety cycle and decrease postoperative anxiety.41

Questions to ask your doctor43

  • Do I need pain medicine before and/or after surgery? If so, what type of pain medicine?
  • How long do I need to take pain medicine?
  • What should I do if I still have pain after finishing my medicine?

What you can do at home to ease your pain47

  • Remember to take your pain medication as advised by your doctor
  • Get enough rest and if you are having trouble sleeping, talk to your doctor
  • Use pillows to support you when you sleep and when you do your coughing and deep breathing exercises
  • Heating pads or cold therapy, guided imagery videos, listening to soft music, changing your position in bed, and massage can help relieve your pain

Frequently asked questions