Pain Medicine After Surgery: What Parents Need to Know

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Children may have different levels of pain after surgery. Here are ways parents and caregivers can help manage their child's pain after surgery.

Level of Pain

To treat a child's pain, it is important to find out their level of pain. For example,

  • Ask your child how much pain they have. This is the most reliable way to assess the level of pain your child feels. This needs to be done in a way that the child understands. An age-appropriate pain assessment tool such as the FACES scale can help. Older children are able to use a number scale from 0 to 10. Even though getting children to rate their pain is often difficult, it is the most reliable way to determine the amount of pain they are experiencing.

  • Observe your child's body language and behavior. For example, a child may make a "pain" face (scrunch their nose and eyes), hold or rub the area of the body that hurts, cry in a different way than usual, or sleep or eat less than usual. Parents are often the best judges of these behaviors.

  • Your child's doctor may monitor changes in your child's vital signs. Changes in heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing can be signs of pain. These are usually recorded in the child's medical chart and information can be evaluated by your child's doctor.

Pain Medicines

There are different types of pain medicines that can help decrease pain after surgery. The decision about which one to use will depend on your child's age and the severity and type of pain they have.

Pain medicine is usually given to a child in a way that does not hurt. Most pain medicines are given in pill or liquid form orally (by mouth) or liquid form put into a vein through a small tube (IV). Medicines should be given regularly so pain is controlled. It's harder to ease pain once it gets worse.

Pain medicines used to treat pain include

  • Non-opioids like acetaminophen and ibuprofen (Tylenol is one brand of acetaminophen. Advil and Motrin are brands of ibuprofen.)

  • Opioids like codeine and morphine

  • Topical and local anesthetics, such as lidocaine, and "numbing" creams applied to the skin

  • Nerve blocks in which numbing medicines are injected into certain nerves in the body

  • Epidural or caudal blocks in which numbing medicines are injected into the space beneath the spine to decrease pain in central areas of the body (chest, stomach, both legs)

In some cases, when children are in the hospital they can use a machine called a patient-controlled analgesia device. This is an easy-to-use device that allows the child to decide when they need more medicine. If your child is in pain, they simply push the button and more medicine is given through the IV. There are controls on the pump to prevent your child from getting too much medicine.

Some parents fear their child will become addicted to pain medicines. However, this is very rare. All patients, including children, deserve to have as little pain as possible. When used properly, pain medicines are very safe and are an important part of your child's medical treatment.

Other Ways to Help Manage Pain After Surgery

Here are other ways to help manage your child's pain after surgery.

  • Complementary and integrative medicine treatments such as acupuncture, massage, and biofeedback may help ease pain. Be sure to talk with your child's doctor before starting any complementary and integrative treatments for your child, to make sure they do not interfere with other treatments.

  • Physical therapy exercises and water therapy may help relax the body and ease pain.

  • Distraction with music, video games, or reading can help to minimize pain.

Visit HealthyChildren.org for more information.


The AAP is an organization of 67,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists, and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety, and well-being of all infants, children, adolescents, and young adults.

In all aspects of its publishing program (writing, review, and production), the AAP is committed to promoting principles of equity, diversity, and inclusion.

The information contained in this publication should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.