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Pain Management and Healing: Part I

Posted May 31 2011 9:08am
I have touched on the issue of pain management in some of my other posts though the issue really does need a bit more attention as it really is a major issue in my history, decision making process, post operatively and even now as I am on the recovery path.  Since I've been asked recently about my current pain levels, I'll start with the present and work my way backwards.

Today, I'm taking Panadol Osteo at night before bed.  It's nothing really.  I've gone without it for a couple of nights in the last week or so as well.  Since I've been home, I've been choosing the level of medication that I require on a day to day basis.  After two decades of managing pain I get it right most of the time.  Throughout the rehabilitation process they tell you it's important to stay ahead of the pain as it's more difficult to fix the problem after it's gotten too bad.  Bad pain also restricts the amount of exercise that you are doing which can delay recovery times so it makes sense to manage the medication carefully.  On the flip side of this, I want to be off medication.  Being off anti-inflammatories was one of the hopeful outcomes for the surgery which I have now met so I've moved the goal posts a little.  It won't be the end of the earth though if I need to take two panadol at night for the rest of my life.  It certainly is better than the other meds that barely managed the pain pre-op.

The pain I have now is only muscular.   The joints don't hurt.  They move freely and don't grind or stop me from moving.  I'd say that the pain that is left is probably similar to work-out pain (without straining anything).  If the worst pain I had pre-op was a ten, I'd say today was only one or at most a one and a half. (I'm sure that there are things more painful that my worst flare but for the sake of the scale, I'm putting the worst one up the top end and working down from there)  I'm completely worn out and everything feels fatigued but it isn't real pain.  There is the friendly muscle ache going on letting me know that I did work hard today and my body really has had enough for the day.  Every now and then it's a little sharp if I sit too long and stretching and moving will help release it out.

A lot of the exercises that I am doing are to build the hip flexors and hip stabilisors.  To work these a lot of other muscles are getting a work out as well.  Pretty much everything around that area needs to be stretched out as it gets tight.  The adductors are some of the worst offenders.  Gluteals, quads and hamstrings are pretty close behind.  The muscles that are above the top of the pelvic bone on the right side are getting a bit of a look in at the moment too as I am practicing walking on one crutch. Knees ache and are swollen a bit more than normal.  They are getting a work out too given my gait has changed as I'm straightening up and not compensating as I used to pre-op.  As the muscles strengthen, I'm able to do more before things get worn out.

Over the years of working with Paul at Body Leadership , I have learnt a lot of skills to help relieve muscle pain.  Squeeze, Stretch, Trigger, Move are the four tenets of body maintenance and when applied make a massive difference to how my whole body feels.  I probably won't explain this anywhere near as well as either Paul or Reece would but I know what I'm supposed to do and they check in regularly to make sure that I'm doing everything properly and add in extra stretches and exercises to my program. Trigger pointing myself isn't anywhere near as effective as when either of those guys are doing it either, though it does make a huge difference.  Pain is more easily managed with the help of these guys.  I can't wait until I can comfortably lie on both sides on the beds at the clinic so that I can get all my connective tissue released.  The thought of all the muscles all loose and nice feels like floating which would be awesome right now!

When I'm in bed I can lie on the wound on either side. The time limit before I have to move is a couple of hours so I am waking to move still and as time goes on, I can stay mostly asleep to move so my sleep feels less interrupted and I wake feeling like I have actually slept.  It's probably close now as I can comfortably rub a moisturiser into it and put quite a bit of pressure into it.  Apparently this is good thing to do while the scar tissue is still pliable to try and minimise it.  I've only really just started this in the last week or so as I've been pretty tentative with it until I was sure it wouldn't hurt.  I don't think I'm going to end up with a really big scar anyway as it looks like the surgeon has done an awesome job putting me all back together again.  The line is quite a fine line and a lot less than I would have expected when you consider how deep the incision would have been to get down to the femur.

When I arrived home from hospital, I was taking the maximum dose of ibrupofen and panamax.  The dose of codeine that I was taking had been cut down to 60mg at night and three lots of 30mg through the day.  30mg is what is in a single Panadeine forte tablet.  Codeine is an opiate and it isn't one of the common ones they use for pain management for this surgery apparently.  The narcotics usually prescribed are oxycontin and endone which I couldn't take as I had a bad reaction to them.

I hadn't really thought of Panadeine Forte as a stong pain killer.  I guess that's because if I had used them pre-op to handle pain and I thought that post-op the pain would be so much worse and I'd need something so much stronger.  Surprisingly I didn't.  The surgical pain really wasn't that bad.  Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't have wanted to put too much pressure on the wounds in the early days but mostly the site was numb around the wound.  It isn't completely back to normal yet but it isn't numb like it was then.

Every now and then there was a quick sharpness but it didn't last.  I like to think of it as the point where the nerves that were healing were first taking the electrical impulses through them and that first sharp pain is the first one as it pushes through the damaged piece the first time to forge the new pathway.  I'm not sure how it really works but the visual of that made the whole thing a bit more positive in my mind.

The most pain I ever had was the second night in the ortho ward and it wasn't in my hips or legs.  It ended up being my back from being in one place for so long without moving.  The first night I still had the PCA to help out but the second night it was gone (I think the PCA is the name for it.  It is the button that you can press to self administer drugs straight into your drip.)  The night it was gone things weren't as comfortable.  I'd also lost the air mattress thing that I had in ICU and they don't roll you in the ward to help relieve the pressure.  The next day I managed to get the air mattress back and that made all of the difference.  Over the next few days I could move a bit more, they got my haemoglobin under control and sorted out meds that worked and I was starting to sleep for a couple of hours at a time which helped.  I think this is the main reason that the goal is to get you up and moving the day after surgery.  Unfortunately when that doesn't happen, muscles start to tighten up and within two days muscles start to weaken.  So I guess the moral of the story is to at least try to get up the first time the physios come in.  If it works out, you'll be so much better off.

When I moved to the rehab ward, the back pain moved to further up the back.  I'd lost the air mattress topper again but the pain was likely from poor posture while using the rollator.  The muscles across the middle were really tight and difficult to stretch out.  I found that the solution was a rolled up towel that I lay on as it ran down the length of my spine and my shoulders could fall back over it and get a good stretch.

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