Experiencing nerve pain after your foot surgery may be a sign of a post-surgical complication or a different condition entirely. Let’s explore the possibilities.
Your options on how to treat nerve pain after foot surgery depend on the nature of your pain. Some discomfort and pain are normal during the initial recovery stages. However, if your pain worsens or ceases to improve, you may need to explore a thorough diagnosis, and examine your pain management options.
The exact mechanisms and pathways for pain can be incredibly complex, and highly individualized. Physical and psychological factors play an equal role in both the severity and location of pain symptoms, so it can be hard to immediately determine how and why you might be experiencing pain after your foot surgery. Even if a recent foot surgery it seems like the simplest, and most straightforward explanation for your current pain symptoms, a thorough diagnosis is important to help reveal other contributing factors.
This can help doctors and pain specialist’s separate incidents of post-operative chronic pain from a temporary increase in pain as a result of a change in medication, or a new injury, or another potential source of nerve damage such as diabetes, alcohol use, a viral infection due to a weakened immune system, an unrelated event or injury, a stray bone fragment, and much more.
An Overview of How to Treat Nerve Pain After Foot Surgery
Reports on the prevalence of post-surgical pain range from 10 percent to 60 percent. Post-surgical pain, like other forms of pain, is managed conservatively at first. Stronger, more intensive interventions only become viable once a doctor feels that a conservative approach is simply not resolving the patient’s issues.
As such, a doctor’s first response might be to suggest relaxation techniques, rest and recovery, as well as over-the-counter pain medication, such as anti-inflammatories and paracetamol (acetaminophen). An ibuprofen/acetaminophen combination drug is a common post-surgical pain management tool. Other common recommendations include a warm compress to reduce pain, a cold compress to numb and reduce swelling, and meditation techniques.
If the pain becomes more severe or does not go away in time, a doctor will open the door for non-surgical interventions. In cases of potential nerve pain, an important diagnostic and pain management tool is the nerve block. Targeted nerve blocks anesthetize a chosen nerve to see if it plays a role in the pain to begin with. If the pain is unchanged, its cause is somewhere (or something) else.
In the long-term, a patient’s pain management options for post-operative nerve pain may include pain pumps (providing controlled bursts of opioid medication via an electronic device), electrical nerve stimulation sessions (neurostimulation), psychiatric talk therapy, and physical therapy.
When other pain management options seem ineffective, another solution may be a follow-up surgery to remove or eliminate the malfunctioning nerve. These procedures are often minimally invasive and utilize a special neurolytic agent to destroy the target nerve.
Nociceptive vs. Neuropathic Pain
There are hundreds of nerves and billions of neurons in the human body. A significant portion of these nerves are responsible for relaying sensations of pain back to the brain. However, pain comes in different forms. While nerves are always involved, the sensation of physical pain is usually either nociceptive or neuropathic. Nociceptive pain is felt in response to a noxious stimulus – i.e., something harmful. Neuropathic pain is the result of a damaged, injured, or malfunctioning nerve.
Pain felt after foot surgery can be either. Post-surgical complications are thankfully not too common, but they do occur – inflammation, infection, or nerve damage can cause or exacerbate a source of chronic pain in the treatment area.
Diagnosing and Identifying Pain
Testing and evaluating a patient’s medical history are often the first steps in diagnosing the source of their pain.
Medical history is especially important – doctors need to be able to rule out certain factors that might contribute to, or even cause neuralgia. Tests matter, too – they allow doctors to check for signs of infection, go over the area with specialized imaging techniques to scan for inflammation in the soft tissue, scarring, or other aberrant elements.
We’ve mentioned the psychological aspects of pain, but they are worth repeating. Recent studies have highlighted how a chronically low mood can elevate and prolong physical pain, and even delay healing. Your mood and mindset after a surgery may be reflective of your physical state, but if your mental health continues to decline, your physical condition may decline with it.
The nature of your foot surgery is important as well. If you had surgery to remove the remaining tissue from a cancerous growth, your pain may be the result of previous treatments, including chemo and radiation.
If your foot surgery led to a significant change in gait, and you did not make sufficient use of mobility tools like a wheelchair, then your pain and inflammation might be an overuse injury due to an awkward physical compromise.
Patients often ask us: what could be the cause of my nerve pain after my foot surgery? Sometimes, the cause of your pain might not be clear. While there are potential culprits or contributing risk factors, it can be difficult to pinpoint the exact reason. Because of the complexities of pain, oftentimes pain management does not rely on trying solely to uproot or address the cause, but to treat pain itself as a treatable condition.
Patients also ask about alternative therapies, ranging from acupuncture to neurostimulation methods (such as TENS). The research on these alternative therapies is constantly expanding, but it’s worth mentioning them, and may be worth giving them a try if your pain clinic offers them.
Patients also ask us if their pain might be their fault because they might have failed to follow certain post-surgical instructions for wound and pain management. Sometimes, taking a cast or bandage off too soon or engaging in rigorous physical activities before you’re given the green light might contribute to post-surgical complications. But most of the time, it’s simply downright bad luck. There are too many variables that contribute to pain, and it’s impossible to control all of them.
If you want to learn more about managing nerve pain after a foot surgery, get in touch with us at Pain Management and Injury Relief, and ask us about our pain management and treatment services.
If you are experiencing nerve pain after a foot surgery, it’s important to know your pain management options. From over-the-counter medication to nerve stimulation and relaxation methods, it’s worth exploring different modalities and finding a pain management team you’re comfortable with.
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