Regenerative Medicine

Easing Post-Surgical Pain

By Last updated on April 5th, 2020 No Comments

There are many different types of surgery available for pain sufferers. One person may undergo a minimally-invasive Arthroscopy for something as simple as a diagnosis. Another person may elect to have a total joint replacement surgery, a major surgery with a long and arduous recovery process. Whatever the reason, there are always risks and potential complications associated with surgery that are worth considering before making this decision. Some exercises exist to ease pain for patients who suffer from pain in different parts of the body — each is most often chosen by a medical health professional such as a physiotherapist to meet a patient’s specific needs. Read on to learn more about what surgeries accomplish, and what you can do for yourself to ease the recovery process.

Why Get Surgery?

Most operations are elective, meaning that the patient is the person who is ultimately making the decision to go under the knife. An exception to this is emergency surgery, which most likely occurs in the Emergency Room after a traumatic injury such as a fall or accident.

Whether surgery is meant to treat hip pain, shoulder pain, knee pain, back pain, or something else, it is almost always the last resort in the treatment process. Doctors will suggest many less invasive treatments before even considering surgery. Some of the most popular treatments for chronic physical pain include:

  • Medication: over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs can help a patient complete daily tasks that may not be possible due to intense pain. Some examples of this include walking, sanding, sitting, and driving. Each can trigger responses, especially in joints such as the hip, knee, and ankle — joints that bear weight throughout the day.
  • RICE Method: for many sports-type injuries, a combination of Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation can help ease the symptoms of injury. Rest allows the injury to heal on its own in a way that places minimal stress on the joint. Ice can ease pain. Some doctors may suggest an alternating colt-heat regimen to reduce pain as well. Compression and elevation can ease pain by reducing inflammation at the injury site.
  • Physical Therapy: the goals of physical therapy are to help a patient regain independence by improving range of motion (which can be affected by an injury), regaining strength surrounding the joint to give it more support, and teaching a patient how to exercise at home in a way that is beneficial to them and their injury.
  • Assistive Devices: some injuries respond well to assistive devices, especially the weight-bearing joints. Devices such as a brace can hold a joint in place while it heals, to prevent it from healing in an abnormal position. Other devices like a cane or walker can help to ease some of the pressure on a joint by easing the amount of weight put on it.
  • Corticosteroid Injections: delivering a powerful anti-inflammatory drug to an injury site can be a good way to ease pain for some. This treatment is not recommended for every patient, however, as it can damage soft tissue over time — so patients with degenerative conditions like arthritis may not benefit from this treatment.

Once doctors have exhausted these treatment methods, they may turn to surgery as the next step in the healing process — if the patient sees little to no results from the aforementioned treatments.

Types of Surgery

Doctors and surgeons will recommend a surgery based on the underlying condition and the patient’s specific needs. They most likely will attempt a minimally-invasive surgery before resorting to something like a total joint replacement. Some common types of surgery include:

  • Arthroscopy: using a tiny camera for guidance and tiny surgical tools, doctors can make a diagnosis of a condition or make small repairs to an injury once spotted. This surgery requires only one or two small incisions, and is not considered major surgery. The recovery time from arthroscopy varies depending on what was accomplished during the procedure and the patient’s needs, but it is generally shorter than major surgery.
  • Spinal or Bone Fusion: pain that is caused by the space between bones (which is most often the cartilage in a joint, or in the spine’s case, the cartilage between vertebrae) can become worn down naturally over time. A solution for this is to remove the soft tissue that is causing problems, and fuse two bones together. Most fusion surgery is spinal fusion, connecting one vertebrae to another, though surgeons can perform bone fusion in other parts of the body like the foot for the same reasons.
  • Joint Replacement: doctors may decide that a joint is too unstable, too degenerated, or too dangerous for a patient to continue using as is. When this occurs, they may elect to replace parts of a joint – or the entire structure. The recovery time for this surgery can be long, and physical therapy can be difficult. This is considered a major surgery.
  • Decompression/Release Surgery: some pain and discomfort are caused by compressed nerves or veins. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is an example of this. If other treatments fail to relieve symptoms, surgeons can perform a surgery to “release” the carpal tunnel. This is performed by cutting a tissue that may be causing structural compression in an attempt to relieve pressure on a nerve.
  • Open Surgery (general): a lot of treatments can be performed by a surgeon by simply making an incision and beginning reparative surgery. This may include sewing, sawing, removing damaged or diseased tissue, and so much more. Open surgery is ideal for when a patient is suffering from multiple injuries concurrently – especially those which cannot be operated on using Arthroscopy.

And many, many more.

What You Can Do to Ease Pain After an Operation

Trained physiotherapists will guide patients through specific exercises to help with their injuries. An aspect of these exercises that is frequently emphasized is breathing. Being mindful of breath during a challenging physical activity can provide many benefits.

Many individuals benefit from focusing on breathing during a pain attack. This can help to take the mind off of the distracting symptoms, as well as regulate oxygen and prevent escalation to anxiety. Some easy breathing exercises to do when experiencing pain are:

  • Diaphragmatic Breathing: also may be referred to as “belly breathing,” this type of breathing engages the diaphragm. Breathe in slowly and deeply in such a way that pushes your belly out. This can be done lying on the floor, standing, or sitting up. Deep, diaphragmatic breaths can help reduce anxiety, blood pressure, and heart rate.
  • Timed Breathing: using a consistent number scheme, inhale for a certain period of time, hold breath, and release. A popular example of this is 4-7-8 breathing, which begins with inhaling while you count to four, holding breath until the count of seven, and releasing to the count of eight.

Generally being mindful of breathing during exercise, especially physical therapy, can really help patients regain a sense of control over their injury as well as relax more easily.

Physical exercises to manage acute pain are going to be different from one patient to the next. Injuries like a rotator cuff tear may involve certain shoulder muscles but not use the legs, whereas a hip exercise may include resistance-band guided shuffles, never engaging the shoulder muscles. If possible, it’s best to make sure that no major muscle group is being ignored during recovery. It can be easy to focus only on the problem area, but doing so can lead to atrophy in the ignored muscle groups or a generally lopsided physique.

Certain treatments like Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP) Therapy can greatly reduce a patient’s symptoms as well. Using a patient’s own cells, doctors can inject a concentrated version of healing cells directly into an injury site. This can provide a myriad of benefits, including:

  • Reduced Pain
  • Long-Term Healing
  • Shorter Recovery From Surgery

Other, similar procedures like Stem Cell Therapy can offer similar benefits as well. Consult with a doctor to find out if either is right for your personal healing process.

Conclusion

Surgery can be a massive and life-altering occurrence. When faced with the option, it’s important to be prepared for what may come. Learning how to breathe mindfully is an excellent way to manage pain and the great amount of anxiety that can come with it. Exercising to manage the pain of a specific injury can help a lot, too — be sure to work with a physical therapist or other medical professional who can teach pain relief exercises. Learning what to do when pain flares up can help patients manage their day-to-day lives more easily.

Dr. Pouya Mohajer

Dr. Pouya Mohajer

Director of Spine & Interventional Medicine
Board certification in Anesthesiology and Interventional Pain Medicine
Fellowship-trained from Harvard University
UCLA Alumni