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A common scenario we see in the clinic all the time is after someone has had surgery such as hip / knee replacement, shoulder surgery or an arthroscopy. When I ask “what painkillers are you taking?”, when they are only a few days post op, the reply is commonly “I am trying not to take them” or, “I don’t like taking painkillers, I don’t want to become reliant on them”. All well intentioned comments but given that it has only been few days since you had someone tinkering around inside you with your bones and joints, not the sensible answer nor the one that will get you going quickest!
At this time when you have had the trauma of surgery, your tissues (bone, muscle and other soft tissue) have been broken / cut / trimmed / shaved / cauterised / and stitched back together. Often new bits have been put in (like in the case of a joint replacement). This is not the time for being brave. The goal in the first 2 weeks post-operatively is to keep you comfortable so you can do the necessary early rehab that will set you up for your recovery. You need to be able to rest (including get some sleep) so you can recover, heal and then gently start moving with in the guidance of your surgeon and Physio.
Sometimes people have reactions to certain painkillers or combinations of them so they just stop taking them. This isn’t the time for trying to be brave! Get to your GP and get some help. Tell them about your symptoms or side effects and get prescribed something that will enable you to do your rehab and rest at this crucial time. There are general many options for you. Everyone is different and as I keep saying, what works best for you may not be the same as your family members, neighbour, work colleague etc. Some of us are more sensitive than others and react differently.
When you have just had surgery or broken a bone, taking painkillers is a good thing. It will help you! There are several reasons for this but 3 key ones are as follows:
1) You need to get some rest and sleep. Sleep is when our brain rests, recovers and processes stuff. Your body needs some time out too in order to heal. When we lack sleep our ability to cope with pain (and other of life’s challenges) can be seriously affected. Speak to any new Mum, they will tell you! Some people also feel groggy after anaesthetic so don’t be surprised if you feel more drowsy than normal.
2) Easing your symptoms with painkillers will help you move easier. When we are in loads of pain our body is in protective mode and will do everything it can to avoid moving the sore bit, hence why we end up moving a bit like Tin Man! Easing movement a little will mean we can start reducing these braced movement patterns that can actually increase your pain further.
3) You can start doing your early rehab, ensuring you are following your surgeon and Physio’s guidelines. Now is not the time for a little free style! In clinic we often see people in the early days after surgery who haven’t been taking their painkillers and are too sore to do the appropriate rehab. This can set your recovery back so make sure you have sufficient pain control to do your training!
The biggest take home is that taking painkillers after surgery is not, and I repeat NOT the long term solution. Rather a short term treatment modality to ensure you can do the required things in the early rehab phase. Using them during times of extreme, acute symptoms, after surgery or a trauma such as a broken bone can be very helpful and also get you on the road to recovery quicker. Please do pass this blog on to friends and family who are about to undergo surgery or have just had it. It may really help and reassure them.
One of our goals as a Physio is to avoid you being reliant on painkillers. Moving and moving well is super important in achieving this. If you have any questions about this please do get in touch. As always, we’d love to hear from you on 01548 852355 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.