Ways to manage your pain while waiting for surgery

12 April 2021
A mum comforting her daughter, a lady walking and a lady stretching her hand.

Due to routine surgery and treatments being cancelled and postponed due to the pandemic, waiting lists that were already too long are now even longer.

We know that many of you are living with pain whilst waiting for surgery and this can feel exhausting and never-ending.

We asked our community for their advice on managing pain and surgery and here’s their tips:

Managing pain at home

It’s important to remember that everyone is different and there are a variety of ways you can manage your pain.

There are painkillers which are available off the shelf, such as paracetamol and ibuprofen, as well as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) which may require a prescription. Read more about the types of painkillers available.

Other things to try which can help to ease pain, include:

  • Using a heat pad or hot water bottle, or alternatively an ice pad or cold compress.
  • Using a TENs machine.
  • Self-massage to stretch and ease tight muscles. Some people found using a foam roller helpful to relieve stiffness and tension.

Keep moving

Exercising regularly (even for a short period of time) can help to ease pain, it will make your muscles stronger and help your body to recover post-surgery. It will also improve mobility which can help with everyday movements around the home - from washing to getting dressed.

If your doctor or physiotherapist has given you specific exercises to help you prepare for surgery, try to stick with these.

Listen to your body and if walking is painful, try something else which feels more doable, for example, swimming or chair yoga.

Check out Let’s Move - this is a programme for people with arthritis who want more movement in their lives. 

“I am lonely, but I am strong minded and only I can change things. At 69, (in May) I hope to return to volunteering and keep myself as flexible as I can be, despite the cracking and crunching in most joints of my body. I believe mobility is essential to living a good life, so regular exercise to maintain a good range of movement in my joints. Not always possible depending on the weather and my general health. I have enjoyed doing the Let’s Move programme and I do as much of the exercises as I can." Helena

Eating well

Eating well and managing your weight is one of the best ways to prepare for surgery and improve your recovery after surgery. It will also help to boost your wellbeing and minimise the strain on your joints.

Get inspired for your meal planning with our range of healthy recipes and check out our kitchen hacks: healthy eating made easy.

Time to relax

If you are in pain, take the time to rest when you need it and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Read our everyday tips to help with jobs around the house.

Look to the things you enjoy and make time for activities which provide a positive distraction and help you relax. Whether that’s watching a film, gardening, listening to music or knitting.

Make yourself comfortable...some people find it helpful to have a pillow between their knees when lying down, snuggling with a blanket on the sofa or using a hot water bottle in bed.

Talk to others

Chatting to others can be helpful, if you have any questions or want advice about arthritis. Our Facebook page and online community will connect you with others who are living with arthritis, including people waiting for surgery or who have had surgery.

"Time, time, time......it’s a bit of rollercoaster. Just had hip done and very pleased re no arthritic pain. However, get other muscle, back, sciatic and associated pains but no ARTHUR ......it just takes time/rest. Also do the P.E and take the meds. Finally, age, fitness, weight factors in. Good luck! NB Versus Arthritis great!" Kenneth, Versus Arthritis Facebook

There’s also lots of resources on our website too which will give you useful information about medication, surgery and exercise.

Ask your healthcare team any questions you have about your potential surgery to prepare yourself and to get things in place for recovery.

It's time to take action

No one with arthritis waiting for surgery should be left unsupported and struggling in unbearable agony. Urge your local health services to implement the six points below by emailing your MP now.

  1. Clear communication to be provided to people about when they can expect to have their surgery and receive the care and services they need in the meantime.
  2. Personalised self-management support to be provided to help people with arthritis manage their pain while they wait for surgery.
  3. Physical activity programmes designed to help people with arthritis stay active and prepare for surgery should be actively promoted by Primary Care Networks*
  4. Mental health support to be offered to help every person with arthritis to manage their pain and any associated depression and anxiety.
  5. Signposting to financial support and advice to be provided for people with arthritis in work or seeking work.
  6. COVID-19 recovery plan to address the specific needs of people with arthritis.

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