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Most Painful Surgeries—And How to Prepare For The Recovery

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
  • Many people postpone necessary surgeries for fear of a painful recovery. In fact, according to patient surveys, post-surgical pain is what gives people the most anxiety about any surgical procedure. While that fear is understandable, it’s important to know pain management techniques have come a long way.

    Still, some medical procedures are notoriously more painful than others. Orthopedic procedures typically receive reports of highest post-surgical pain from patients, and some routine procedures cause significant pain as well. Here’s a list of surgeries often cited by patients as being difficult, with tips on how to get through recovery. Vote up the surgeries you think are the most painful using the arrows on the left.

  • 1
    933 371
    Hemorrhoid Surgery
    Unseen woman on toilet

    As cited by Redditor u/haddawaytomyheart

    A hemorrhoidectomy is the removal of hemorrhoidal tissue inside the anal canal or around the anal opening. Hemorrhoid surgery is used to treat large hemorrhoids that cause pain or bleeding.

    Recovery from hemorrhoid surgery is a gradual process. Here’s some tips that will help you heal.

  • 2
    688 159
    Knee Replacement
    Unseen patient in hospital bed with knee replacement bandage

    As cited by Redditor u/rahlquist

    A knee replacement is surgery to remove a damaged knee joint and replace it with an artificial joint, or knee implant. It is one of the most common orthopedic procedures.

    Here is a general knee replacement recovery timeline so you know what to expect if you decide to have this surgery.

  • 3
    625 141
    Spinal Fusion
    Doctor showing patient spine x-ray

    Spine surgery recovery varies based on the specific surgery. Here are some tips on what to expect and how to plan for your rehabilitation.

    As cited by Redditor u/Spicy_German_Mustard

    Spinal fusion is the surgical joining of two vertebrae in your neck or back. Spinal fusion permanently stops movement between two or more vertebrae and can help restore pain-free function in a deformed, damaged or diseased spine.

  • 4
    521 402
    Young Caucasian girl sick on couch with mother checking throat for swelling

    As cited by Redditor u/alinagolden

    A tonsillectomy is the surgical removal of the tonsils. Infection of the tonsils is called tonsillitis. Frequent bouts of tonsillitis can lead to difficulty breathing, sleep apnea (pauses in breathing during sleep), difficulty eating, and ear infections.

    Tonsillitis is most likely to occur in children because the tonsils are larger in children, but it can occur in adults as well. Here are six tips for managing post-surgical pain in children after a tonsillectomy.

  • 5
    442 152
    ACL Surgery
    Bandages and scar on knee after ACL surgery

    As cited by Redditor u/jmmathis91

    ACL is minimally invasive outpatient surgery, but that doesn’t mean it’s an easy recovery. The typical recovery can take up to six months. Here’s what to expect.

    ACL surgery is the reconstruction or replacement of a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in the knee. Doctors perform ACL surgery when the damage to the ACL ligament is causing severe pain or significantly limiting your ability to move the knee, which hinders participation in sports or an otherwise active lifestyle.

  • 6
    372 77
    Shoulder Replacement
    Older man with shoulder pain at doctor

    As cited by Redditor u/Droppin_mangos

    A shoulder replacement removes a damaged or diseased shoulder joint and replaces it with an artificial joint. It is also called shoulder arthroplasty.

    A shoulder replacement is major surgery with a long recovery period. Here are some things to keep in mind both before and after the procedure.

  • 7
    255 44
    Whipple Procedure
    Doctor talking to cancer patient wearing head scarf

    As cited by Redditor u/Markbert690

    The Whipple procedure—also known as a pancreaticoduodenectomy—is a complicated operation to remove the head of the pancreas, the first part of the small intestine, the gallbladder, and the bile duct. It is most often used to treat pancreatic cancer. It is a difficult procedure but can be life-saving.

    Recovery can take up to six weeks.

  • 8
    251 49
    Doctor performing surgery

    As cited by Redditor u/APG619

    A proctocolectomy is the surgical removal of all or part of the rectum and colon (large intestine) to treat disorders of the digestive tract. These include colorectal cancer, bowel obstruction, Crohn’s disease, and diverticulitis.

    As part of a proctocolectomy you will need an ostomy pouch attached to your stomach so you can empty stool.

    Read up on living with an ostomy and what to expect after colectomy.

  • 9
    209 248
    Hernia Surgery
    Close-up of surgical tools including mesh used for hernia surgery

    As cited by Redditor u/ChrisMcKraken

    A hernia repair is the surgical correction of a hernia—a condition in which an organ or structure protrudes through a weak part of tissue or muscle. Hernias most often occur in the groin, abdomen, navel, or at a previous surgical incision site.

    Recovery after surgery is gradual and can take from 2 to 6 weeks. Read up on what to expect with hernia surgery.

  • 10
    187 349
    Gallbladder Removal (Cholecystectomy)
    Unseen patient's abdomen with bandages from cholecystectomy or laparoscopic gallbladder surgery

    As cited by Redditor u/GirlWithTheKeyTattoo

    Your doctor may recommend a cholecystectomy (surgical removal of the gallbladder) if you have gallstones that cause pain. The surgery can also treat other conditions of the gallbladder and pancreas. Gallbladder removal is a common but major surgery that can be performed with small laparascopic incisions or through an open procedure that requires a larger incision in the abdomen.

    Pain after gallbladder surgery is significant, but it will lessen with time. Here are some tips on managing post-surgical pain.

  • 11
    152 163
    Uterine Fibroid Removal (Myomectomy)
    Woman in hospital bed with hand on stomach looking out window

    As cited by Redditor u/jamieharrinton

    Myomectomy is surgery to remove uterine fibroids, or leiomyomas. Unlike hysterectomy, myomectomy does not remove the entire uterus.

    Recovery from uterine fibroid removal varies depending on the surgical approach. Read up on what to expect and how to prepare.

  • 12
    119 245
    Unseen woman showing appendectomy scar on abdomen

    As cited by Redditor u/NumanumaTheGullible

    Doctors perform an appendectomy if an inflamed or infected appendix is at risk of rupturing. If an appendix ruptures, it can cause a life-threatening infection called peritonitis. Often patients undergo an appendectomy on an emergency basis with little time to prepare.

    An appendectomy surgery can be open (with a large incision through the abdomen) or laparoscopic (with 1 to 3 small incisions). Regardless of method, it’s important to take these six steps for a smooth and complete recovery.

  • 13
    107 295
    Broken Arm Repair
    Woman with broken arm

    As cited by Redditor u/iLuvTHC

    A broken arm, also called a fracture, is one of the most common orthopedic injuries. If the skin is broken, or if the bone is shattered or moved out of place, surgery may be required. After surgery, you will need immobilization.

    Here’s what to expect with broken arm recovery.

For any surgery, planning ahead for your recovery, when possible, is an important part of a successful outcome. Don’t delay or postpone important surgery. Talk to your doctor about what to expect and how to be an active participant in your recovery.

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  1. Gerbershagen HJ, Aduckathil S, et al. Pain Intensity on the First Day after Surgery: A Prospective Cohort Study Comparing 179 Surgical Procedures. Anesthesiology. 2019;118:934-944. doi:https://doi.org/10.1097/ALN.0b013e31828866b3. Retrieved from https://anesthesiology.pubs.asahq.org/article.aspx?articleid=1918645
  2. Gan TJ, Habib A, et al. Incidence, patient satisfaction, and perceptions of post-surgical pain: Results from a US national survey. Current Medical Research and Opinion. 2013;30(1). DOI: 10.1185/03007995.2013.860019. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/258632822_Incidence_patient_satisfaction_and_perceptions_of_post-surgical_pain_Results_from_a_US_national_survey
  3. Meissner W, Mescha S, et al. Quality Improvement in Postoperative Pain Management Results From the QUIPS Project. Deutsches Ärzteblatt International 105(50):865-70. DOI: 10.3238/arztebl.2008.0865. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/26325902_Quality_Improvement_in_Postoperative_Pain_Management_Results_From_the_QUIPS_Project
  4. Andresen K and Rosenberg J. Management of chronic pain after hernia repair. J Pain Res. 2018;11: 675–681. doi: 10.2147/JPR.S127820. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5896652/
Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Jul 9
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