Pain Relief after Surgery

This page will provide you with information about pain relief after surgery. For further details, you should speak to your consultant.

The benefits of pain relief

Most operations do cause pain – some significant amounts, other less so. A patient with good pain control after an operation will reduce the risk of heart attack, chest infection or blood clots. Further complications can also be avoided by increasing movement after an operation; getting up, walking and moving around may mean you get to return home sooner rather than later.

Simple painkillers

These type of painkillers can be used in isolation or alongside other painkillers. These include things like paracetamol, anti-inflammatory painkillers (ibuprofen, codeine), and similar painkillers like tramadol. Whilst these particular drugs may not total relieve you of all pain, taking them regularly can reduce the amount of other painkillers that you may otherwise be dependent on. Complications of simple painkillers. There are a few risks associated with these painkillers, although they are small. See below:

  • Paracetamol is very safe in normal doses.
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs can occasionally cause stomach and asthma irritation.
  • Codeine can cause light-headedness, sickness, itchiness and constipation.
  • Morphine & similar painkillers.

These types of painkillers are used for more intense pain. These include morphine, pethidine, diamorphine and oxycodone. Delivery with a drip (intravenous delivery). Patient-controlled analgesia (PCA) is the most common form of intravenous delivery for these forms of painkiller, and involves the connection of a pump containing the painkillers to a drip inserted into a vein. The patient then has control over how much painkiller they receive as they are given a button to press which releases a small dose. Other forms of delivery (orally/via injection). Once a patient is eating and drinking normally, these painkillers can be given by mouth. They can also be given in the form of an injection, either directly into the muscle or under the skin. Complications of morphine & similar painkillers. There are some risks associated with these painkillers. See below:

  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Itching
  • Confusion
  • Respiratory depression
  • Epidural anaesthetic.

An epidural is the process of inserting a fine catheter into an area near the spinal cord known as the ‘epidural space’; most nerves pass through this space and so local anaesthetics and painkillers injected into this area numb these nerves. The anaesthetic is occasionally injected continuously in what is known as ‘infustion’; on top of this patients are sometimes given a button to ‘top-up’ this dose, but only by a small amount deemed safe. The dose is determined and can be changed by the healthcare professionals in charge.

Complications of epidural anaesthetic

There are some risks associated with epidural anaesthetics. See below:

  • Headaches
  • ​Low blood pressure
  • Seizures
  • Infection around the spine
  • Respiratory depression
  • Cardiovascular collapse
  • Unexpected high block
  • Blood clot around the spine
  • Nerve damage
  • Paralysis
  • Death
  • Peripheral nerve blocks.

This is a type of pain relief offered to reduce discomfort after an operation on an arm or leg. It works by temporarily numbing nerves by injecting anaesthetic or other painkillers close to the major arm or leg nerves, accordingly.

Complications of peripheral nerve blocks

There are some risks associated with this type of pain relief. See below:

  • Nerve damage
  • ​Bleeding
  • Allergic reaction
  • Local anaesthetic toxicity
  • Nerve block failure


Pain relief after surgery is usually a safe and effective way for patients to manage any discomfort experience post-operation.

References: EIDO Healthcare Limited – This treatment information is produced using information from EIDO Healthcare Ltd and is licensed by Aspen Healthcare.

The information should not replace advice that your relevant health professional would give you.


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