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How Long Is Too Long to Experience Postsurgery Pain?

Oct 10, 2023
How Long Is Too Long to Experience Postsurgery Pain?
While each person’s postsurgical timeline is unique to their circumstances, there are some rules of thumb regarding the duration of discomfort. If you’re wondering when to worry about postsurgical pain, read on.

Each year in the United States, about 100 million surgeries occur. Normally, some postoperative discomfort exists, but it gradually subsides as the person heals. 

Unfortunately, many people deal with postsurgical discomfort that goes well beyond what we’d consider normal — between 20% and 56% of people develop chronic pain after surgery.

In many cases, a person undergoes surgery to relieve pain, so persistent and prolonged discomfort after surgery can be a frustrating outcome. Here at Commonwealth Pain & Spine, our extensive team of pain management experts wants you to know that we understand your frustration and are here to help.

In the following, we review a few rules of thumb regarding post-surgical pain and when the discomfort might be problematic.

What type of surgery?

As we dive into this topic, we must emphasize a fairly obvious point — the severity and duration of your postsurgical pain greatly depend upon the surgery. For example, mole removal and open heart surgery are very different procedures with very different recovery timelines.

So, the first variable to plug into your postsurgical equation is how extensive the surgery is and the extent of the tissue disturbance and damage. A minor procedure may lead to a few days of manageable discomfort instead of several weeks of potential pain after a major surgery.

Bear in mind, too, that minimally invasive techniques like laparoscopy can certainly reduce postoperative discomfort over open surgery, but your recovery will still be affected by how much internal work occurs.

Your surgeon should give you a good idea of a typical recovery timeline for your specific procedure.

Your health matters

Another factor affecting how quickly you recover from surgery is your health going into the process. If you’re in great health and have no cardiovascular or neurological issues, your postsurgical discomfort will likely fade more quickly.

If, on the other hand, you have poor circulation or an issue like diabetes, your postoperative recovery can be a little more complicated.

Again, your surgeon considers these factors when giving you a potential recovery timeline.

When the pain has gone on too long

The International Association for the Study of Pain defines chronic postsurgical pain as lasting three months or more. In this case, they exclude pain related to infection or the presurgical issue. 

Chronic postsurgical pain is often neuropathic — it involves your peripheral nervous system. A good example is complex regional pain syndrome, a dysfunction in your peripheral nervous system that typically develops after trauma, such as surgery. Researchers are unsure why trauma leads to overactive nerve signaling, but this issue is responsible for a large percentage of postoperative pain.

Another issue is when your nerves grow back after surgery — innervation — these new nerve fibers can fire erratically.

Help for your post-surgical pain

The one takeaway we want to deliver is that there are solutions for managing chronic postoperative pain. We’re pain management specialists who offer a wide range of solutions, from medications to neurostimulation, and we leave no stone unturned when it comes to finding relief for our patients.

For expert management of your chronic postsurgical pain, please schedule an appointment at one of our 21 locations in Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois.