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Pain Management FAQs

Dr. Alan GartrellDr. Alan Gartrell is the staff anesthesiologist at the Primary Children's Medical Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, and is the primary lecturer on the topics Mediastinal Masses and Pediatric Advanced Trauma Life Support (ATLS). Dr. Gartrell earned his undergraduate degree from Texas A & M University. He received his medical degree from the University of Texas in Dallas, Texas, completed his residency at the University of Utah Medical Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, and did a fellowship in pediatric anesthesia at The Children's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts. Dr. Gartrell is a member of the American Medical Association, the American Society of Anesthesiologists, the International Anesthesia Research Society, the Utah State Medical Association, the Utah State Society of Anesthesiologists, the Society for Pediatric Anesthesia, and the Salt Lake County Medical Society. Dr. Gartrell has also explored and lectured on complementary/alternative healing techniques. Currently he is volunteering to organize and teach programs at a non-denominational meditation center in Salt Lake City.

How much pain can I expect to have after scoliosis surgery?

Dr. Gartrell: How much pain you will have is difficult to predict, because you are unique. We do know that pain after surgery is normal,and it can be managed. No one would say that having scoliosis surgery is pleasant, but it is tolerable. Some say it hurts a lot, some say it's not bad. Tell your nurses and doctors how you feel. Tell them often. There are many ways to keep pain under control so that you can rest when you need to rest and move around when you need to move around.

What are epidural catheters and how do they work to lessen the pain after scoliosis surgery?

Dr. Gartrell: The word "epidural" refers to a space along the spine just outside of the covering of the spinal cord. A "catheter" is simply a tube. An epidural catheter is a spaghetti-size tube that can be used to drip medication near the spinal nerves. Sometimes at the end of a scoliosis surgery, the surgeon will leave one end of an epidural catheter along the spine where the surgery took place. The other end of the epidural catheter is taped along the patient's shoulder. Pain medicines can be placed in the epidural catheter. Patients don't feel the epidural catheter, but they often feel excellent pain relief from the medicines the catheter delivers.

What would you do if I felt that I was still having too much pain after the surgery?

Dr. Gartrell: If you told me that pain was keeping you from resting comfortably or was keeping you from moving around when needed, I would first try to understand what kinds of pain you were experiencing. There are several things that can be adjusted to meet your specific needs. Pain medicines can be increased, changed, or dosed differently. Physical therapists can help with movement. Child life personnel can address concerns and fears. Nurses can assist you in finding comfortable positions and in creating an environment in your room that enables you to rest well. Pain control is an ongoing process that requires you to talk to your care givers over and over again. Let us know how you feel. Tell us what works and what doesn't. Your comfort is a top priority.

What are the most common side effects of pain medications after scoliosis surgery?

Dr. Gartrell: Pain medicines are used to lessen pain. If a pain medicine has an effect in addition to relieving pain, we call that a "side effect." Common side effects of narcotic-based pain medicines include sedation, nausea, itching, decreased appetite, constipation, shallow or slow breathing, cough suppression, and mental confusion. Not every patient experiences medication side effects. Your nurse and physician have ways to deal with side effects if they do occur.

Are there any techniques that I can use that will help me cope with my pain that don't involve getting more medication?

Dr. Gartrell: Yes! Pain effects us in many different ways, and we can effect our pain in many different ways. Here are simple things that some patients find helpful: music, video's, audio books, play stations, and best friends. Gentle hand, foot, and neck massage can be helpful. A "Do Not Disturb" sign on your door may be appropriate. Other techniques that may be helpful include aroma therapy, acupressure, conscious relaxation techniques, biofeedback, guided imagery, and visitation by a personal therapist or clergy. These techniques usually require planning and experience prior to your surgery, but they may be well worth the effort. Be creative. Anything that promotes physical relaxation and mental calm can be a great help in controlling post-operative pain.

The materials on this Web site are for your general educational information only. Information you read on this Web site cannot replace the relationship that you have with your health care professional. We do not practice medicine or provide medical services or advice as a part of this Web site. You should always talk to your health care professional for diagnosis and treatment.

  • Published: December 19, 2001
  • Updated: July 22, 2008