KNOW YOUR PAIN
POST-SURGICAL NEUROPATHIC PAIN
WHAT IS POST-SURGICAL NEUROPATHIC PAIN?
After surgery, patients can experience varying degrees of pain. Although most patients will have some pain after surgery, which is normal, that pain should last for a short time (known as acute pain). In some cases, the pain can last long after the surgery/expected healing time, sometimes for months or even years. This is called chronic (long-lasting) post-surgical pain.1 If this pain is related to nerve damage, it is called post-surgical neuropathic pain.2
WHAT CAUSES POST-SURGICAL NEUROPATHIC PAIN?
Post-surgical neuropathic pain (PSNP) can develop if nerves were damaged during surgery.3 Damaged nerves cannot correctly transmit signals from various parts of the body to the brain. Instead, these signals become exaggerated, causing chronic pain that may persist for months or even years.3
Around 10–50% of patients will develop chronic pain after surgery; the variability in the proportion of patients depends on many factors, including the type of surgery, level of pain before and just after the surgery, the location of the surgery or any underlying diseases/conditions.2
WHAT ARE TYPICAL SYMPTOMS OF POST-SURGICAL NEUROPATHIC PAIN?
The signs and symptoms of PSNP are generally limited or localised to the area of the body where the surgery took place.4 This is why PSNP is considered a type of localised neuropathic pain, or scar pain as it often occurs around the location of the scar.5
Neuropathic pain can be described as 'stabbing pain' or 'shooting pain'. Patients with PSNP could be either very sensitive to touch (hypersensitive) or insensitive to touch (hyposensitive). Although less common, some patients can experience itching or numbness.3,6
HOW IS POST-SURGICAL NEUROPATHIC PAIN DIAGNOSED?
There are key features of PSNP that help healthcare professionals with diagnosis:4
- The pain develops, or increases, after an operation
- The pain lasts for at least 3 months after the operation, and significantly affects quality of life
- The pain is either a continuation of the acute (short-term) pain experienced after the operation or it develops after a period of no symptoms
- The pain is limited or localised to the area of the body where the surgery took place
- The pain is not thought to be from other causes, such as an infection or cancer
You should tell your doctor if you have had surgery and now have chronic pain in the affected area.
1. Schug SA et al. Pain. 2019;160(1):45–52.
2. Shipton E. Post-surgical neuropathic pain. ANZ J Surg. 2008;78:548–55.
3. Searle RD & Simpson KH. Contin Educ Anaesth Crit Care Pain. 2010;10:12–14.
4. Werner MU & Kongsgaard UE. Br J Anaesth. 2014;113(1):1–4.
5. Universitair Pijn Centrum Maastricht. Scar Tissue Pain. Available at: https://www.pijn.com/en/scar-tissue-pain-5. Accessed June 2021
6. Macrae WA. Br J Anaesth. 2008;101:77–86.