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Pain management: The key to a smoother hip replacement

A nurse smiles at a man in a hospital bed.

If you're about to have a hip replacement, it's important to know what kinds of pain management options are available.

If you're living with hip pain, joint replacement surgery can offer relief. But you may want to know what level of discomfort to expect during and after surgery. The good news is that there are safe and effective ways to manage pain during and after surgery. Knowing which options are best for you can make your recovery faster and less painful.

Pain relief during surgery

Anesthesia will keep you from feeling pain during your joint replacement surgery. Your doctors might recommend general or regional anesthesia as your main type of anesthesia.

General anesthesia affects your whole body. If you use this option, you will be unconscious during your surgery. General anesthesia may be best for people with certain health conditions that may make regional anesthesia less safe.

Regional anesthesia may also be an option. This type of anesthesia blocks pain to a particular area of your body. With this option, you will be given medicine to sedate you during surgery. You might stay awake or you might be in a light sleep. The most common kinds of regional anesthesia are:

  • Spinal and epidural blocks. These involve injecting anesthesia into your lower back using a needle or catheter.
  • A peripheral nerve block. This option blocks pain to the nerves in your thigh, numbing the region around your hip. According to the Arthritis Foundation, nerve blocks can help relieve pain for a few days after surgery too.

Ask your healthcare team about the risks and benefits of each type of anesthesia. They can help you understand the best choice for your surgery.

Pain relief during recovery

It's also important to talk to your doctor about how you will manage pain after surgery. Some pain is normal after surgery and as you recover. But there are options to help you feel better.

Opioids may be used to help with severe pain after surgery. While they are effective, there is a risk of problems such as addiction. In most cases, patients only use opioids for a short period of time.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) reduce swelling and ease moderate pain. Some common NSAIDs include aspirin and ibuprofen.

Muscle relaxers can reduce pain from muscle spasms after surgery. Most patients experience very few side effects.

Over-the-counter pain medications like acetaminophen can help reduce pain or fever. But be sure to talk to your doctor before combining an over-the-counter drug with your other medications.

RICE—rest, ice, compression and elevation—can relieve pain without medicines. After surgery, rest up. Use ice or compression dressings on sore areas. And be sure to prop your leg up whenever possible.

Start the conversation

Talking to your doctors about pain before your surgery can help you know what to expect. It can help them make a plan to manage your pain. If you use opioids or other medicines to help with pain before surgery, make sure to tell your doctor. And let them know about other medicines or supplements you take.

Reviewed 9/14/2022

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