Could Your Post-Surgery Painkiller Be Prolonging Your Agony?

Imagine undergoing abdominal surgery and counting on a painkiller to make you comfortable during your recovery. Now imagine that the same painkiller actually made your pain last longer — double or even triple the time. As mind-boggling as it may sound, new research indicates that this is actually happening with a commonly used drug.

Morphine prolongs postoperative pain

Morphine, a drug often given to patients for relief after abdominal surgery, has been found to lengthen the duration of postoperative pain instead of alleviating it. Researchers at the University of Colorado, Boulder, made this surprising discovery when they studied the effects of morphine on patients following stomach surgery. They found that not only did the use of morphine increase the amount of time patients suffered from pain, but remarkably, it potentially tripled it in some cases.

The role of glial cells

This unexpected phenomenon can be traced back to glial cells found in our nervous system. Both the surgery itself and the morphine used to treat postoperative pain cause these cells to become inflamed. As a result, the inflamed glial cells send extra pain signals to the surrounding nerves.

According to researcher Erika Galer, “After abdominal surgery — even without using any drugs to treat the pain — the glial cells would be activated, and they would contribute to the postoperative pain.” She adds that when patients take morphine, “you’re going to have a prolonged period of pain.”

This extended period of discomfort can last for weeks even after the discontinuation of morphine.

Alternative treatments for managing pain

Given these findings, patients undergoing abdominal surgery may want to consider alternative methods of pain management post-op. There are a number of options available that can be tailored to suit individual needs and preferences. Some of these options include:

Over-the-counter medications

Nonprescription pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen can provide relief for mild to moderate pain without the risks associated with prescription opioids like morphine. As with any medication, it is important to follow the recommended dosage and discuss potential side effects with your doctor.

Prescription non-opioid medications

In some cases, your healthcare provider may prescribe non-opioid medications that are stronger than over-the-counter options. These medications can be highly effective in managing pain, although it is still important to be aware of potential side effects and monitor your usage carefully.

Physical therapy

A professional physical therapist can help you regain strength, flexibility, and mobility after surgery through a combination of targeted exercises and stretches. They can also work with you to develop strategies for managing your pain at home and during daily activities.

Complementary methods

Some patients find relief through complementary therapies such as acupuncture, massage, or meditation. These methods can help relax the body and mind, alleviate stress, and promote healing after surgery.

A holistic approach to post-surgery pain management

While morphine and other opioids have been commonly used for pain management after surgery for quite some time, this new research prompts us to rethink their use, especially in the context of abdominal surgery. By exploring alternative pain relief methods and working with healthcare professionals, patients can not only avoid the unexpected effects of drugs like morphine but also potentially achieve better overall recovery.