post-surgical pain management

As medical professionals and researchers continue to uncover the risks associated with opioid addiction, the approach to post-surgical pain management is evolving. Surgeons, in particular, are reevaluating their strategies to prioritize the safety and well-being of their patients. It’s important for individuals undergoing surgery to be aware of these advancements, as they play an integral role in their own pain management journey. In this article, we will explore effective and safer ways to manage post-surgical pain, highlighting the importance of avoiding opioid pain medication whenever possible.

The Opioid Epidemic: A Call for Change

Over the past few decades, the number of opioid prescriptions written for surgical patients and individuals with pain conditions has skyrocketed. Unfortunately, this increase in prescriptions has led to a parallel rise in opioid-related problems, including addiction and overdose. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that we are currently facing an opioid epidemic, with an alarming 91 substance-related deaths occurring each day. Contrary to common belief, this epidemic is not limited to younger individuals. In fact, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration predicts that the proportion of older adults misusing opioids will double between 2004 and 2020.

Orthopedic surgeons, who are among the highest prescribers of opioid analgesics in the United States, have recognized the urgent need for change. Dr. Elizabeth Matzkin, an orthopedic surgeon and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, emphasizes the pivotal role orthopedic surgeons play in altering the current overprescribing patterns for postoperative pain management. To address this challenge, surgeons like Dr. Matzkin are shifting their focus towards non-opioid medications and alternative treatments to effectively manage pain while reducing the risk of opioid addiction.

4 Tips for Effective Post-Surgical Pain Management

When it comes to post-surgical pain management, there are several strategies that can help individuals avoid unnecessary use of opioids. By following these tips, patients can achieve satisfactory pain control while minimizing the risk of addiction.

1. Explore Non-Opioid Pain Relief Options

In many cases, non-opioid pain relievers such as ibuprofen (Advil) and acetaminophen (Tylenol) can effectively control postsurgical pain if taken as recommended. Researchers have conducted studies to assess the efficacy of non-opioid pain management in specific surgical procedures. For instance, a study conducted on 163 knee arthroscopy patients revealed that 82% of those who underwent arthroscopic partial meniscectomy or chondroplasty achieved satisfactory pain control with non-opioid pain management. Discuss with your surgeon the possibility of utilizing these non-opioid alternatives, as they may help alleviate pain without the risks associated with opioids.

2. Limit Opioid Medication Use

If opioid medication is deemed necessary for pain management, it is crucial to limit its use both in terms of dosage and duration. Dr. Christopher Chiodo, an instructor in orthopedic surgery at Harvard Medical School, advises patients to take opioids for less than a week, and only when other options have been exhausted. To further reduce the amount of opioid medication needed, your doctor may recommend alternating it with non-opioid treatments such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, if appropriate.

3. Adjust Expectations and Redefine Pain

Orthopedic surgeons are now setting realistic expectations for patients before surgery. Dr. Matzkin stresses the importance of understanding that experiencing some pain or discomfort after surgery is normal. While no one should have to endure excruciating pain, accepting that a certain level of discomfort is to be expected can significantly reduce the need for pain medication. Dr. Chiodo compares post-surgery pain to the soreness one might experience after exercise, emphasizing that it is manageable without resorting to opioid pain relievers.

4. Utilize Non-Medication Pain Management Strategies

Managing pain effectively involves combining various methods and techniques. In addition to medication, there are non-medication strategies that can significantly contribute to pain relief. For example, elevating the affected area after surgery can help alleviate pain, reduce swelling, and promote wound healing. Additionally, applying ice to the surgical site within the first 24 to 48 hours can provide relief. However, it is crucial to follow your doctor’s instructions carefully when using ice, as prolonged exposure can cause tissue damage.

Developing a Personalized Pain Management Plan

To ensure the best possible pain management outcomes, it is essential to have a plan in place before your surgical procedure. Discussing pain control with your surgeon ahead of time allows for a collaborative approach and helps you make informed decisions about your pain management options. By proactively addressing pain management, you can work together with your medical team to develop a personalized plan that prioritizes your comfort and recovery.

In conclusion, the approach to post-surgical pain management is evolving, with a shift away from the automatic reliance on opioid pain medication. Surgeons and patients alike are recognizing the risks associated with opioids and are actively exploring alternative treatment options. By adopting non-opioid pain relief methods, limiting opioid use when necessary, adjusting expectations, and utilizing non-medication strategies, individuals can effectively manage post-surgical pain while minimizing the risk of addiction. Remember, it is essential to work closely with your medical team to develop a personalized pain management plan that suits your specific needs and promotes a safe and successful recovery.