Kids and Pain: Treatment and Care After Surgery

After a surgical procedure, a person is often told to take a pill every few hours to feel better. According to guidelines from the American Pain Society, there are better options than just a pill for postoperative pain management.

The best pain management is using a variety of methods; including individualized education and planning prior to surgery, the use of different medications and non-medication treatment options during and after surgery, as well as a transition plan while recovering from the surgical procedure.

Prior to surgery, family-centered, individualized education with child life specialists can help with decreasing anxiety and worry for both the child and parents. Healthcare providers who specialize in pediatrics are able to explain what to expect at developmentally appropriate levels for each child. Having a documented plan and goals keeps everyone informed and better prepared.

Assessing previous pain experiences as well as other medical and psychological conditioning can impact postoperative pain management. It is important to assess pain using developmentally appropriate methods. There are a variety of tools available to help with recognizing pain in all ages of children, however, input from parents and caregivers who know their child best is also needed.

Distracting children from pain and providing comfort is vitally important.  Here are some options to try:

  • Keep the room quiet and dim the lights to help with rest
  • Play soft music
  • Watch a favorite movie or TV show
  • Read books
  • Slow deep breathing exercises
  • Blowing bubbles
  • Massage therapy, acupuncture, aromatherapy, hypnosis
  • Using comfort items from home, such as stuffed animals or a music device with headphones

You can also ask a Child Life Services for suggestions or ask the nurse if it is safe to place a warm or cold pad on the area that hurts.

Using pain medications on a consistent basis such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen can decrease or eliminate the need for stronger pain medications such as opioids. Talk with your child’s doctor on what the best plan is based on your child’s surgery.

If your child is prescribed an opioid medication be sure to:

  • Monitor how often your child is needing the medication and how much you have on hand at all times
  • Secure the medication in a locked cabinet or box
  • Have a Transition plan in place for weaning off the medication
  • Dispose of all unused medications in a safe manner. Look for disposal locations near you

Every child is different so be sure to work closely with your doctor to develop an individualized treatment plan for pain management after surgery. Start this discussion before surgery and have a plan which includes a multi-method approach with a transition plan and goals.

For more information about Nationwide Children’s Hospital’s Palliative Care team, click here or listen to our PediaCast.

Sharon Wrona, DNP, PNP, PMHS
Sharon Wrona, DNP, PNP, PMHS. AP-PMN is Administrative Director of the Comprehensive Pain and Palliative Care Services at Nationwide Children's Hospital. She has been working at Nationwide Children's Hospital for over 28 years and has spent the last 14 years helping to develop the Comprehensive Pain Services and as an advanced practice nurse. Dr. Wrona is Certified in Pain Management Nursing and recognized as Advanced Practice Nurse in Pain Management Nursing, She is a member of the American Pain Society, International Society for the Study of Pain, and is currently serving on the Board of Directors for the American Society for Pain Management Nursing. Dr. Wrona is active with the Ohio Government Cabinet Opiate Action Team on ruling out Opioid Prescribing Guidelines for Treatment of Acute Pain and co-chairing the Opioid Safety Task Force at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

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