Addressing concerns about pain medications after spine surgery
Startling statistics regarding opioid addiction have caused some patients planning back surgery to fear taking prescription pain medications after surgery. At the same time, evolving policies and efforts to curb opioid dependence have caused other patients to fear that they might not get the pain relief they need after back surgery.
At NeurosurgeryONE, formerly South Denver Neurosurgery, we are committed to using pain medications responsibly, and to providing needed pain medication after back surgery, so that our patients never experience needless severe pain.
In my experience as a neurosurgeon, I have seen firsthand that proper pain medication after back surgery is an important and necessary component of treatment. By easing pain, these medications can make it possible for you to be more mobile, and help you sleep better — both of which will help speed your recovery.
It’s important to remember that pain after back surgery is not the same as chronic pain. It’s not pain that you should expect to have to cope with for a long period of time. Instead, your post-surgery pain will be greatest in the first days after surgery, and will lessen as your body heals.
That means that your need for prescription medications to ease the pain will lessen as well.
No two patients, no two back surgeries, are alike
Every patient, and every surgery are different. So are people’s tolerance for pain. We can expect some patients to need pain relief for longer periods than others. But for patients who’ve had a minimally invasive procedure, one to two weeks is the average amount of time we’d expect them to need prescription pain medications. For open or more complex surgeries, it might be up to four to six weeks.
It’s also important to remember that patients respond differently to medications. While some may tolerate pain medications well, others may feel overly sedated or even ill taking them.
Many patients who have been experiencing severe back pain for months or even years may use prescription medications to ease that pain and allow them to function normally before surgery. I encourage patients to reduce their use of these medications as much as possible before surgery. Prolonged usage can cause some people to develop a tolerance for pain medications, which means they need larger doses to achieve meaningful pain relief. Reducing this tolerance before surgery, if possible, can reduce the dose, and the time you’ll need to control pain after surgery.
Pain medication guidelines
If you’re taking prescription pain medications, remember the following:
- If possible, try to taper off prescription pain medications rather than stopping abruptly. This is particularly true if you have been taking them for a few weeks or more.
- Always take the medication as prescribed. If you aren’t getting enough pain relief with the prescribed dose, talk with your doctor about changing the dose or about other ways to relieve your pain. Never take more medication than your prescription calls for. Conversely, if your medication leaves you feeling so sedated that you find it hard to walk or function, talk to your surgeon about reducing your dose or finding alternatives for pain control.