The Types of Post-Surgery Pain You May Experience (2023)

Surgical pain is pain that results from a surgical procedure. The pain has a number of possible causes, including:

  • Tissue damage at the incision
  • The procedure itself
  • The closing of the wound
  • Force that may be applied during the procedure

The Types of Post-Surgery Pain You May Experience (1)

Pain after surgery may have other causes. You may have back pain because of how you were lying on the surgical table. Throat pain is common after general anesthesia. This is because the breathing tube can cause irritation.

All pain hurts, but all pain is not the same. There are different causes of pain. There are also different resulting sensations. For example, the pain you feel when you burn your finger is different than the pain you might feel from a surgical incision.

This article looks at some of the different types of pain you may have after surgery. It also discusses ways to manage your pain.

Nociceptive Pain

Nociceptive pain is typically caused by tissue damage. This can include damage to:

  • Muscle
  • Bone
  • Skin
  • Organs

Examples of things that cause this kind of pain include:

  • An ankle sprain
  • A dental procedure
  • A burn

Nociceptive pain usually improves with healing.

Nociceptive pain is the most commonly experienced pain. When someone says they are in pain, this is usually what they mean. There are different types of nociceptive pain.

Superficial Somatic Pain

Somatic pain is pain caused by injury. It usually improves with healing. It is typically gone when healing is complete.

Superficial means the injury is on the surface. Superficial somatic pain includes:

  • Cuts
  • Bruises
  • Burns
  • The skin wound from a surgical incision

Deep Somatic Pain

Deep somatic pain comes from tissues deep within the body. This includes tissues like:

  • Ligaments
  • Bones
  • Muscle
  • Tendons

You feel deep somatic pain after an ankle sprain or broken bone.

Some surgical pain is deep somatic. This includes the part of the incision that cuts through muscle or other internal tissue.

For example, a surgeon must cut through the muscles of the abdominal wall to remove an inflamed appendix. The pain that comes from those muscles is a deep somatic pain.


Somatic pain is caused by injury like cuts, bruises, burns, and surgical incisions.

Caring for Your Incision After Surgery

Visceral Pain

Visceral pain comes from internal organs. This is the pain you feel when you have gas pain or appendicitis.

Visceral pain does not always seem to come from the location of the problem. The pain may be general. It may even seem like it's coming from another part of your body. This makes it hard to pinpoint its origins.

(Video) Post-Surgery Course and Expectations: Postoperative Pain

Visceral pain can be caused by surgery. It can also be caused by other types of organ damage. This includes things like cancer or infection.

The process of cutting into an organ can cause visceral pain. Gas that travels through the gastrointestinal tract after surgery can also cause this kind of pain.

An Overview of Visceral Pain

Neuropathic Pain

Neuropathic pain is caused by damage to nerve cells. This damage can be a result of surgery. It can also be caused by injury or diseases like diabetes.

Types of neuropathic pain include:

  • Central neuropathic pain (CNP): This is pain that happens after damage to the brain or spinal cord. This type of pain could be caused by surgical damage to a nerve. This might happen during brain, head, or spinal surgery.
  • Peripheral neuropathic pain: This type of pain comes from nerves that are not part of the brain or spinal cord. Examples include nerves in the arms and legs. The repair or replacement of a joint is an example of surgery that could cause this kind of pain.


Visceral pain is pain felt in the internal organs. Neuropathic pain is caused by nerve damage.

An Overview of Neuropathic Pain

Referred Pain

Referred pain occurs when the brain can't tell where the pain is coming from. This happens because the brain gets bundled information from different parts of the body through one set of nerves.

This kind of pain may happen during a heart attack. Some heart attack patients have referred pain in the left arm. This is because the nerve signals from the heart and arm are sent to the brain together.

Phantom Limb Pain

Phantom limb pain is a unique phenomenon. When you have this kind of pain, you continue to feel a sensation in a body part that has been amputated, or removed.

The name "phantom limb pain" can be misleading. This pain can happen in other body parts, too. People who have had a breast or other non-limb body part removed may also feel this kind of pain.

In the past, phantom limb pain was thought to be psychological. It is now known that it originates in the nervous system.

Some people with this condition can simply feel the presence of the amputated body part. Others may experience severe pain. This kind of pain is usually medicated like other types of pain.


People who have had body parts removed may experience phantom pain where those parts used to be.

What to Do About Your Pain

Pain after surgery is normal. Your surgeon should prescribe or recommend pain medication for you to take after your procedure. This does not necessarily mean you will have no pain. It means your pain will be tolerable.

Contact your surgeon if your pain suddenly increases or becomes unmanageable. This can be a sign of a setback in your recovery.

(Video) Why am I Still in Pain After Surgery?

In general, your pain should slowly improve each day. Use your pain medication as it is prescribed. "Toughing it out" can actually slow your recovery. It can also prevent you from being up and moving in the days and weeks after surgery.

How Much Pain Is Acceptable After Surgery?


You may experience several different types of pain after surgery. Some pain may be caused by the procedure itself. Other pain may be caused by related factors like the breathing tube.

Nociceptive pain is pain caused by tissue damage. This kind of pain can be on the surface or in deeper tissues.

Visceral pain is felt in the internal organs. Neuropathic pain comes from the nerves.Referred pain is pain that seems like it is coming from a different area of the body than the part that is actually injured.

After an amputation, some patients may experience phantom pain where the missing body part used to be.

Tell your surgeon about any increase in pain after surgery. Make sure to take your pain medicine as prescribed.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • At what point after my procedure is post-surgical pain the worst?

    Generally speaking, post-surgical pain is at its worst 48 hours after a procedure. This can vary depending on several factors, including the use of painkillers.

  • Why is post-surgical pain worse at night?

    Among the possible reasons are:

    • Your sleep position
    • Disruption of your sleep-wake cycle due to your procedure or medications you are taking
    • Being too active during the day
  • How long should I take pain medication after surgery?

    (Video) Narcotic Addiction And Post Operative Pain Control

    It depends. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Motrin (ibuprofen) are typically used for 10 days or less. This is because of potential side effects like stomach ulcers. Opioids like OxyContin (oxycodone) should be taken for the shortest amount of time possible. Addiction is rare when they are used for five days or less. Always follow your doctor's instructions.

11 Sources

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. Gemechu BM, Gebremedhn EG, Melkie TB. Risk factors for postoperative throat pain after general anaesthesia with endotracheal intubation at the University of Gondar Teaching Hospital, Northwest Ethiopia, 2014.Pan Afr Med J. 2017;27:127. doi:10.11604/pamj.2017.27.127.10566

  2. Baliki MN, Apkarian AV. Nociception, pain, negative moods, and behavior selection.Neuron. 2015;87(3):474–491. doi:10.1016/j.neuron.2015.06.005

  3. Colloca L, Ludman T, Bouhassira D, et al. Neuropathic pain.Nat Rev Dis Primers. 2017;3:17002. doi:10.1038/nrdp.2017.2

  4. Roselt D. Somatic Referred Pain. In: Gebhart GF, Schmidt RF, eds. Encyclopedia of Pain. Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer; 2013.

  5. Subedi B, Grossberg GT. Phantom limb pain: mechanisms and treatment approaches.Pain Res Treat. 2011;2011:864605. doi:10.1155/2011/864605

  6. Rosén HI, Bergh IH, Odén A, Mårtensson LB. Patients´ experiences of pain following day surgery - at 48 hours, seven days and three months.Open Nurs J. 2011;5:52-59. doi:10.2174/1874434601105010052

  7. Gan TJ, Habib AS, Miller TE, White W, Apfelbaum JL. Incidence, patient satisfaction, and perceptions of post-surgical pain: results from a US national survey. Curr Med Res Opin. 2014;30(1):149-60. doi:10.1185/03007995.2013.860019

  8. Pacheco D. Sleep Foundation. Pain and sleep.

  9. Chouchou F, Khoury S, Chauny JM, Denis R, Lavigne GJ. Postoperative sleep disruptions: a potential catalyst of acute pain? Sleep Med Rev. 2014;18(3):273-82. doi:10.1016/j.smrv.2013.07.002

    (Video) Top Five Mistakes People Make After Total Knee Replacement

  10. Cleveland Clinic. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

  11. American College of Surgeons. Safe and effective pain control after surgery.

By Jennifer Whitlock, RN, MSN, FN
Jennifer Whitlock, RN, MSN, FNP-C, is a board-certified family nurse practitioner. She has experience in primary care and hospital medicine.

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What type of pain is experienced after surgery? ›

Postoperative pain can be divided into acute pain and chronic pain. Acute pain is experienced immediately after surgery (up to 7 days) and pain which lasts more than 3 months after the injury is considered to be chronic pain.

What type of pain is post surgical pain? ›

Post-surgery pain is a type of neuropathic (nerve) pain which is thought to result from injury to a major peripheral nerve during a surgical procedure. Surgery, by its nature, involves the cutting of tissues and nerves, which activate the body's automatic injury responses, such as inflammation.

When do you have the most pain after surgery? ›

There may be a significant correlation between worst pain at 48 hours and return to normal activity within seven days. There may be a risk that patients can not return to normal activities within seven days because of worst pain experience at 48 hours after day surgery.

Is pain common after surgery? ›


Pain after surgery is known as acute pain; it has a known cause and will usually improve as the tissues heal. Pain after surgery is normal. Sometimes acute pain continues and becomes longer term and persistent (chronic pain).

What does post OP nerve pain feel like? ›

Tingling, numbness, muscle weakness, or burning are the most common signs and symptoms of nerve damage after surgery. Numbness is the most annoying and troubling problem caused after surgery. It is basically losing sensation in a particular area of the body that affects a person's lifestyle.

What are the four processes of normal pain? ›

There are four major processes: transduction, transmission, modulation, and perception. Transduction refers to the processes by which tissue-damaging stimuli activate nerve endings.

How do you assess post op pain? ›

Clinical Assessment of Pain. Post-operative pain can be assessed subjectively and objectively: Subjective – Ask the patient to grade their pain on a scale of mild, moderate, or severe; this can be assessed regularly as part of the nursing observations.

Why does post-surgery pain get worse at night? ›

Why is post-surgical pain worse at night? Among the possible reasons are: Your sleep position8. Disruption of your sleep-wake cycle due to your procedure or medications you are taking9.

How much pain is too much pain? ›

Severe Pain.

When it intensifies to level 8, pain makes even holding a conversation extremely difficult and your physical activity is severely impaired. Pain is said to be at level 9 when it is excruciating, prevents you speaking and may even make you moan or cry out. Level 10 pain is unbearable.

What causes shooting pain after surgery? ›

The phenomenon of chronic post-surgical pain is poorly understood, but experts believe it's due to hyper-stimulation of the nervous system that can be caused by peripheral nerve damage, chronic inflammation or the formation of scar tissue at the surgery site.

How long should surgical pain last? ›

Q: How long does post-surgical pain last? A: Post-surgery pain should be temporary (lasting 2 to 5 days) and is managed using pain medications, anti-inflammatory drugs and/or local anesthetics. For minor surgical procedures, pain is anticipated to last from 1-2 days).

How long does postoperative pain last? ›

It usually starts in the first few weeks after surgery. Studies suggest that painful phantom symptoms can last between one hour and 15 hours a day and can vary between five days a month and 20 days. Pain severity can also be very variable.

How common is nerve pain after surgery? ›

Post-operative pain is common after many different operations, with an incidence of 30-50% depending on the type of surgery. Many individuals with post-operative pain have demonstrable neuropathic causes of pain (i.e. in the distribution of one or more nerve territories).

What are the 10 most painful surgeries? ›

Rank It Most Painful Surgeries—And How to Prepare For The Recovery
  • 719 302. Hemorrhoid Surgery. As cited by Redditor u/haddawaytomyheart. ...
  • 570 132. As cited by Redditor u/rahlquist. ...
  • 541 131. Spinal Fusion. ...
  • 432 374. Tonsillectomy. ...
  • 385 140. ACL Surgery. ...
  • 341 71. Shoulder Replacement. ...
  • 234 38. Whipple Procedure. ...
  • 224 43. Proctocolectomy.

How much pain is too much pain after surgery? ›

It is reasonable to aim for pain that is a 2-3 out of 10, with zero being no pain and ten being the worst pain you can imagine. If you are concerned about the level of pain control you will have after surgery, speak with your surgeon before and after your surgery.

What are the top 5 major surgeries? ›

Top 5 surgical procedures
  • Angioplasty (Percutaneous Coronary Intervention - PCI)
  • Knee Replacement.
  • Hip Replacement.
  • Laparoscopic Cholecystectomy.

What are the symptoms of nerve pain? ›

10 Signs You May Be Suffering from Nerve Pain
  • Numbness or tingling in feet and hands.
  • Loss of balance and falling.
  • Throbbing and sharp pain.
  • Extreme sensitivity to touch.
  • Dropping things with your hands.
  • Muscle weakness.
  • Heavy feeling in arms and legs.
  • Dramatic drop in blood pressure.
21 Mar 2017

How do you treat post OP nerve pain? ›

Treatments for Chronic Postoperative Pain (PONP)
  1. Pain Relievers. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Tylenol can relieve mild symptoms.
  2. Pain Killers. Opioid drugs like tramadol or oxycodone can relieve moderate to severe pain. ...
  3. Anti-Seizure Medications. ...
  4. Topical Medications. ...
  5. Nerve Blocks.
15 Sept 2021

What is a neuropathic pain? ›

What is neuropathic pain? Neuropathic pain can happen if your nervous system is damaged or not working correctly. You can feel pain from any of the various levels of the nervous system—the peripheral nerves, the spinal cord and the brain. Together, the spinal cord and the brain are known as the central nervous system.

What are the 7 types of pain? ›

Types of pain
  • Acute pain.
  • Chronic pain.
  • Neuropathic pain.
  • Nociceptive pain.
  • Radicular pain.

What are the 3 types of pain? ›

There are 3 widely accepted pain types relevant for musculoskeletal pain: Nociceptive pain (including nociceptive inflammatory pain) Neuropathic pain. Nociplastic pain.

What are the two main types of pain? ›

Pain is most often classified by the kind of damage that causes it. The two main categories are pain caused by tissue damage, also called nociceptive pain, and pain caused by nerve damage, also called neuropathic pain. A third category is psychogenic pain, which is pain that is affected by psychological factors.

What are the three pain assessment? ›

The three most commonly utilized tools to quantify pain intensity include verbal rating scales, numeric rating scales, and visual analogue scales.

How should I sleep to relieve pain after surgery? ›

The good news is there are many things you can do to help improve sleep and bounce back from surgery a bit quicker.
  1. Do some deep breathing. ...
  2. Try progressive muscle relaxation. ...
  3. Adjust your medicine. ...
  4. Consider your environment. ...
  5. Take a shower or bath, or listen to music. ...
  6. Share your concerns. ...
  7. Talk to your doctor.

Why do I feel weird days after surgery? ›

The surgery itself causes tissue injury. After surgery, your body undergoes repair and recovery, which drives a higher baseline metabolic rate and draws on your nutrient stores. So it isn't surprising such intense activity at a cellular level results in feeling tired after surgery.

Why is the third day worse after surgery? ›

Swelling and Bruising.

Tissue injury, whether accidental or intentional (e.g. surgery), is followed by localized swelling. After surgery, swelling increases progressively, reaching its peak by the third day. It is generally worse when you first arise in the morning and decreases throughout the day.

What is the highest level of pain called? ›

Using the Pain Scale
  • Mild Pain – Nagging, annoying, but doesn't really interfere with daily living activities.
  • Moderate Pain – Interferes significantly with daily living activities.
  • Severe Pain – Disabling; unable to perform daily living activities.

What is unbearable pain? ›

Definition. A sensation of extreme discomfort and anguish that is overwhelming and unendurable. [ from NCI]

What hurts the most pain scale? ›

There are many different kinds of pain scales, but a common one is a numerical scale from 0 to 10. Here, 0 means you have no pain; one to three means mild pain; four to seven is considered moderate pain; eight and above is severe pain.

What is rebound pain after surgery? ›

Rebound pain after regional anesthesia can be defined as transient acute postoperative pain that ensues following resolution of sensory blockade, and is clinically significant, either with regard to the intensity of pain or the impact on psychological well-being, quality of recovery, and activities of daily living.

What is breakthrough pain after surgery? ›

Results: Breakthrough pain is severe or excruciating pain of rapid onset that can disable or even immobilize the patient. Patients with BTP should be assessed after baseline persistent pain has been stabilized with around-the-clock (ATC) analgesics.

Is it normal to have pain a month after surgery? ›

In many patients, chronic pain ensues. Some patients may actually be pain-free or have only mild pain in the acute post-surgical period, with more intense pain developing only weeks or even months after surgery.

What is Post op syndrome? ›

Persistent postoperative pain has been defined by the International Association for the Study of Pain as a clinical discomfort that lasts more than 2 months postsurgery without other causes of pain such as chronic infection or pain from a chronic condition preceding the surgery.

What is the strongest drug for nerve pain? ›

Tramadol. Tramadol is a powerful painkiller related to morphine that can be used to treat neuropathic pain that does not respond to other treatments a GP can prescribe. Like all opioids, tramadol can be addictive if it's taken for a long time.

Is heat good for nerve pain? ›

Nerve Pain

Pain caused by conditions such as sciatica respond well to ice or cold treatments because that temperature tends to calm inflammation and numb any soreness in the tissue. It's best to use cold when the pain is still sharp and move on to heat once that sharpness has subsided.

Is sharp pain normal after surgery? ›

It's common to have some pain after surgery. Pain doesn't mean that something is wrong or that the surgery didn't go well. But when the pain is severe, it's important to work with your doctor to manage it. It's also important to be aware of a few facts about pain and pain medicine.

› Surgery › Recovery ›

It can interfere with your breathing and can cause sedation beyond what is safe1 . Many pain medications also cause constipation, which can become a major surg...
Recent studies indicate that patients experience pain after day surgery for a longer period than previously known. This requires verification. This was a prospe...
How do you control surgery pain? There are many techniques and tips that can help you reduce pain and make your pain medication more effective.

Is post operative pain neuropathic? ›

A large component of persistent pain after surgery can be defined as neuropathic pain (NP). Nerves are injured during surgery and pain can persist after the surgical wound has healed. NP is because of a primary lesion or dysfunction of the peripheral or central nervous system.

Is surgical pain acute or chronic? ›

Acute pain is almost ubiquitous after surgery. Fortunately, it can be controlled and mostly resolves within 1 week. It should not cause distress or limit postoperative recovery.

Is postoperative pain chronic pain? ›

Chronic postoperative pain is a poorly recognized potential outcome from surgery. It affects millions of patients every year, with pain lasting for months to years, resulting in patient suffering and ensuing economic consequences.

What are the three forms of neuropathic pain? ›

  • Peripheral neuropathy. Peripheral neuropathy is a type of nerve damage that affects the peripheral nervous system. ...
  • Autonomic neuropathy. ...
  • Focal neuropathy. ...
  • Proximal neuropathy. ...
  • Diabetic neuropathy. ...
  • Compression mononeuropathy. ...
  • Phantom limb syndrome. ...
  • Trigeminal neuralgia.

What are four common types of neuropathic pain? ›

The most common causes for neuropathic pain can be divided into four main categories: disease, injury, infection, and loss of limb.

What are examples of neuropathic pain? ›

Many symptoms may be present in the case of neuropathic pain. These symptoms include: Spontaneous pain (pain that comes without stimulation): Shooting, burning, stabbing, or electric shock-like pain; tingling, numbness, or a “pins and needles” feeling.

What are the 5 categories of pain? ›

The five most common types of pain are:
  • Acute pain.
  • Chronic pain.
  • Neuropathic pain.
  • Nociceptive pain.
  • Radicular pain.

How do you describe different types of pain? ›

1 to 3: Mild and minor pain that's noticeable and possibly distracting. 4 to 6: Moderate to moderately strong pain that's enough to disrupt your normal daily activities. 7 to 10: Debilitating, intense pain that prevents you from living a normal life.

What type of pain is considered persistent pain? ›

Chronic or persistent pain is pain that carries on for longer than 12 weeks despite medication or treatment. Most people get back to normal after pain following an injury or operation. But sometimes the pain carries on for longer or comes on without any history of an injury or operation.

Is it normal to have pain a month after surgery? ›

In many patients, chronic pain ensues. Some patients may actually be pain-free or have only mild pain in the acute post-surgical period, with more intense pain developing only weeks or even months after surgery.

How long should surgical pain last? ›

Q: How long does post-surgical pain last? A: Post-surgery pain should be temporary (lasting 2 to 5 days) and is managed using pain medications, anti-inflammatory drugs and/or local anesthetics. For minor surgical procedures, pain is anticipated to last from 1-2 days).

How much pain is normal after surgery? ›

It is reasonable to aim for pain that is a 2-3 out of 10, with zero being no pain and ten being the worst pain you can imagine. If you are concerned about the level of pain control you will have after surgery, speak with your surgeon before and after your surgery.


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