American College Of Surgeons - Inspiring Quality: Highest Standards, Better Outcomes

Pain Control

Your pain can be controlled using acetaminophen (Tylenol®) and ibuprofen (Motrin®, Advil®). Nonmedication therapies, such as ice may also be effective. For severe pain that is keeping you from moving and sleeping, an opioid may be needed. By day 4, most people report no severe pain after an operation (see Safe and Effective Pain Control After Surgery). Pain from the surgical incision is usually gone in 7 to 10 days.

You may have a pins and needles sensation or numbness at the breast or down the arms or axilla. This can be from nerve endings that were cut during the surgery on the chest wall. Persistent pain can be a common side effect after breast cancer treatment.37

Keeping You Informed

In a nationwide study, 15 months after breast surgery and treatment, 32.7 percent of women had pain almost every day. Many of these women were of a younger age, had more involved surgery, and received hormone therapy.38

At 7 to 9 years after surgery, 20.4 percent continued to report persistent pain. Reach out to your surgeon if your pain is lasting more than several weeks. They will recommend a pain control plan and complementary therapies to manage your pain.

A combination of therapies and medications will be used together for better pain control after your surgery. The goal is to:

  • Minimize your pain
  • Keep you moving
  • Help you heal
  • Decrease the need for opioid (narcotic) pain medication

Below is a guide that can help you with pain control options after surgery.

How Intense Is My Pain

What Can I Take to Feel Better

Most Common Therapies

I hardly notice my pain, and it does not interfere with my activities.

I notice my pain and it distracts me, but I can still do activities (sitting up, walking, standing).

Non-Medication Therapies


Non-Opioid, Oral Medications

  • Take as needed when you feel pain
  • These help to decrease pain and swelling (inflammation)

Non-Medication Therapies

  • Ice, elevation, rest, meditation, massage, distraction (music, TV, play), walking, and mild exercise
  • Splinting the abdomen with pillows

Non-Opioid Medication

  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol®)
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) Aspirin, Ibuprofen (Motrin®, Advil®), Naproxen (Aleve®)

My pain is hard to ignore and is more noticeable even when I rest.

My pain interferes with my usual activities.

Non-Medication Therapy


Non-Opioid, Oral Medication

  • Take these on a regular schedule

Non-Medication Therapy Plus Non-Opioid Medication

On a regular schedule instead of as needed (Tylenol® every 6 hours at 9am, 3pm, 9pm, 3am and Motrin® every 6 hours at 12am, 6am,12pm, 6pm)

I am focused on my pain, and I am not doing my daily activities.

I am groaning in pain, and I cannot sleep. I am unable to do anything.

My pain is as bad as it could be, and nothing else matters.

Non-Medication Therapy

Non-Opioid, Oral Medication

  • Take these on a regular schedule

Short-Acting Opioids

  • Take for a few days and decrease/stop as soon as possible

Opioids block pain and give a feeling of euphoria (feel high). Addiction, a serious side effect of opioids, is rare with short-term use.

Examples of short-acting opioids include: Tramadol (Ultram®), Hydrocodone (Norco®, Vicodin®), Hydromorphone (Dilaudid®)