Manage Pain After Spine Surgery

People who are facing upcoming surgical procedures often approach the event with mixed feelings. They are typically relieved to be taking care of a problem that is causing discomfort or threatening their health. Conversely, the prospect of unknown post-operative factors such as pain and limited mobility make many patients apprehensive as the back surgery date approaches. Individuals who educate themselves about their procedures and make plans for the recovery period are likely to experience less problems with pain.


Being generally aware of what takes place during a procedure, whether you are undergoing motion-preserving spine surgery or spinal decompression surgery, can help people prepare themselves for the operation. Most physicians offer excellent printed instructions pre-operatively to patients on what to expect before, during and after surgery. Good information can also be found on the internet from reputable sources that include:

  • University and medical school websites
  • Professional medical organizations
  • Sites devoted to specific conditions

Medications in the Hospital

Properly using pain medicine is a vital component to managing post-operative discomfort. Immediately after surgery, medications are administered either intravenously (IV) or by intramuscular injection, and it is up to the patient to ask the nursing staff for medication when he or she is starting to feel uncomfortable. When patients find themselves watching the clock in anticipation of the next dose, their relief may be inadequate and they may need to ask for a different prescription.

Many physicians prescribe patient controlled analgesia (PCA) pumps that allow people to inject painkillers through their IV by pressing a button at the end of a cord. A timed lockout mechanism on the device safeguards individuals from accidentally overdosing themselves.

The first or second day after surgery, patients are usually weaned from parenteral medications and started on oral tablets. They can be taken usually every four to six hours.

Medications at Home

Most patients will go home with prescription pain medicine. If an individual is becoming uncomfortable an hour or more before the next dose is due, he or she may need to decrease activity and call the physician. When physical therapy is part of the course of recovery, pain medications should be taken approximately one hour before activity in order to maximize therapeutic results.

If you’re considering back surgery, but would like a second opinion or more information on the latest spine treatments available, reach out to The Spine Institute. Dr. Hyun Bae, the center’s medical director, specializes in fusion, non-fusion, and minimally invasive spine surgeries. To schedule an in-person consultation with Dr. Bae or one of the center’s other spine specialists, call (310) 828-7757.