In sports, the “no pain, no gain” adage is popular and for good reason. Often when we stretch ourselves physically we can reap great rewards. In surgery, pain is common too, and the gain is worth it. Swelling is your body’s natural reaction to a trauma like surgery; it can cause pain as your body releases chemicals that increase the flow of white blood cells, proteins, and certain chemicals to hasten healing, thereby causing swelling or inflammation. The good news is that both swelling and pain after surgery can be alleviated.
Remember that everyone’s pain scales are different, and what works for one person may not work for another. Here, we’ll review some of the best ways to manage swelling and pain after surgery so you can optimize your healing and look forward to a pain-free, restful future!
Top 8 Ways to Manage Swelling and Pain
- Long-Acting Local Anesthetics: Many times, your surgeon will give you a long-acting local anesthetic that will continue to block pain after the surgery and negate the need for more medication directly after. This is a good way to “stay ahead of the pain” by keeping it within your limits of comfort.
- Opioids: In the recent past, many doctors were more lax with requirements for prescribing pain medications, and opioids were prescribed much more frequently for post-surgery recovery. Now, surgeons try to prescribe the smallest doses possible of drugs like Percocet, Vicodin, Norco, and Tylenol with Codeine to manage the pain. You can carefully monitor your pain by noting it on a scale of 1-10 and seeing if you can take fewer pills and spread out doses as you’re feeling better. The danger of becoming addicted to opioids is very real, and you and your doctor will work together to ensure that you are not abusing this very addictive narcotic.
- NSAIDS: Pain relievers like aspirin and ibuprofen work to keep inflammation down, which also decreases pain. They are considered NSAIDs, or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. As you transition off of stronger medications, you can use these to mitigate the pain. Again, the idea is to take only what you need to keep the pain at a manageable level. You’ll want to “stay ahead” of the pain so it doesn’t catch up to you.
- Elevate: When you keep the area of surgery elevated, you’ll harness gravity to drain the lymph back to the rest of your body and keep it from building up to reduce the risk of infection and also help healing.
- Use Ice and a Cold Compress: Not only does cold feel good as a numbing agent on your recovering body, but it also helps constrict blood vessels and reduce the flow of white blood cells to decrease the swelling to decrease the pain. The best way to apply ice is by wrapping it so it doesn’t touch your skin directly and by keeping sessions to about fifteen minutes to avoid frostbite. It’s also best right after surgery; use ice within 24 to 72 hours post-procedure to maximize its effectiveness.
- Laugh: It’s true that laughter is good medicine. Studies have shown that laughter helps decrease pain and even improve your immune system. So find some funny shows, read a funny book, or talk to a funny friend. You’ll be surprised at how well this works, and the added endorphins are certainly a great side effect!
- Get a Massage: In the same way that funny stories can help you feel better, massage can also take your mind off the pain and calm you. Gentle massages encourage blood flow and also normalize lymphatic blood flow. This promotes healing and helps alleviate pain.
- Enjoy Some Company: Spending time with a friend can also help keep your mind off any pain. If you’re not able to join them out, invite them in for tea and take some time to connect. Don’t worry about cleaning up ahead of time; they know you’ve just had surgery and are happy to spend the time with you.
These tips and tricks are highly effective at helping minimize swelling and pain, which are the body’s normal response to the changes it has undergone. As uncomfortable as they are, they act as alerts to let us know when the body needs to restore itself. By listening to your body and taking some of the steps above, you’ll be able to mitigate the pain and swelling as your body naturally heals. At the Advanced Center for Plastic Surgery, we are happy to talk with you about the post-operative process and how to reduce pain and swelling after surgery. We’ll help ensure that your experience is as seamless and painless as possible.