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How to Manage Pain After Top Surgery

Posted by Dr. Hugh McLean on 18 August 2020
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Post-surgery pain management plays a pivotal role in your successful recovery. Aside from making you comfortable, staying on top of your pain after a major surgical procedure, such as an FTM top surgery, also reduces your risk for complications like pneumonia and blood clots. If you are able to manage pain post-surgery, the sooner you will be able to do simple recovery exercises and eventually ease back into your daily routine.

Patient in pain

In this article, we talk about everything you need to know about post-surgery pain and several ways on how to manage pain when you’re recovering at home from an FTM top surgery.

Let’s dig right in!

Different Types of Post-Surgery Pain

Pain is subjective and is a different experience for everyone. It can range from a dull ache to a sharp stabbing kind of pain that is either constant or goes on and off. It can affect your blood pressure, heart rate, appetite, and overall emotional health. Early intervention is the secret to effective pain management. Interestingly, post-surgery pain is not limited to the incision site. While you’re on the mend, you may experience different types of post-operative pain, including:

  • Muscular pain: There may be aching on the neck, shoulders, chest, or back due to lying on the operating table for several hours.
  • Throat discomfort: Your throat may feel itchy, sore, and difficult to speak. It is common among patients who have undergone surgery with general anesthesia. It could be due to dehydration or intubation.
  • Movement pain: This is a form of pain whenever you move, sit down, walk, or even cough, putting pressure on your incision site. In FTM top surgery, patients have very limited arm movement because of this.
  • Residual pain: This can last months post-surgery. In some cases, this type of post-surgery pain is linked to nerve damage, especially if it’s a burning and numbing pain. But most of the time, it’s just your body still recovering from the trauma from the surgery.

According to the American College of Surgeons, studies show that 9 out of 10 patients report that their pain is mild or gone four days after surgery. Hence, your doctor may give you a few day’s supplies of pain reliever before sending you home. If you have severe pain after the said period,  don’t hesitate to call your doctor as it may be an indication of infection.

Be Open About Any Concerns on Post-Surgery Pain During Consultation

Patient consulting with a doctor about post-surgery pain

Take a proactive approach to take control of your post-surgery pain. Talk to your surgeon about your concerns as early as the initial consultation, instead of waiting after the gender-affirming operation has been done. Speaking out about it and letting your doctor walk you through what to expect after the FTM top surgery will ease your anxiety.

Here’s a list of key items that should be discussed with your surgeon in detail before getting the procedure done: 

Post-surgery Pain Expectations

Don’t hesitate to ask about which types of pain are normal while recovering and which should be a cause of alarm.

History of Chronic Pain

Let your doctor know if you’ve had experience with chronic pain in the past and if you were in the habit of taking over-the-counter pain relievers to manage it. Your surgeon will explain that your body may be less sensitive to pain medication because of this and recommend alternative options to address chronic and post-surgical pain.

Medications and Supplements

Inform your doctor about every type of prescription drug, OTC medicine, vitamin and mineral supplements, or any herbal supplements you have taken within a month before your surgery. Be as detailed as possible. It’s going to help your doctor prevent adverse drug interactions and other contraindications with your post-surgical pain medications. You may be advised to pause a prescription for a new drug regimen before and after your FTM top surgery.

Alcohol, Tobacco, and Drug Use or Abuse

Be honest with your surgeon when he inquires about your consumption of alcohol, tobacco, or recreational drugs. If you are recovering from addiction or substance abuse and are worried about getting hooked on opioid-based pain relievers, don’t hesitate to communicate it with your doctor to tailor your post-surgery pain medication safely. Non-opioid pain relievers, such as ibuprofen (Advil) and acetaminophen (Tylenol), are usually enough to manage pain in FTM top surgery when taken as advised.

Additional Treatment Support

Post-surgical anxiety and depression can happen to anyone. If you are worried about this or have a history of emotional disorder, don’t be afraid to ask your doctor for support. There are now many complementary therapies, such as psychobehavioral interventions that may help manage stress and anxiety. 

Tips on How to Manage Pain from FTM Top Surgery At Home

One of the most frequently asked questions we get at McLean Clinic is, “Is the recovery for top surgery painful?” Not as much as you think. 

Generally, the first 24 to 48 hours after the procedure is the most critical, but it gets better little by little. As long as you follow the post-treatment care and recovery instructions provided to you, our patients say that they are able to manage pain without any incident at home.

Check out these post-surgery pain management tips below.

Apply An Ice Pack Or Cold Compress

Cold therapy through ice packs and cold compresses can alleviate pain, bruising, and swelling in the first 24 to 48 hours post-surgery. Do not apply frozen packs or ice directly onto the skin. Be sure to wrap it in a piece of cloth to avoid hurting the skin. Direct contact with ice for too long can cause tissue or nerve damage. Usually, this happens when the patient cannot feel anything on the area while the general anesthesia is starting to wear off.

Wear A Compression Binder

There may be some kind of discomfort associated with wearing a surgical bra or compression binder after an FTM top surgery. But wearing a compression binder has its own benefits, specifically for post-surgery pain. It reduces the risk of bruising and swelling and keeps the surgical area firmly in place, supporting the chest contour

Take Medications And Oral Pain Reliever On-Time

You will be given post-surgery pain medications for the first week of your recovery, including oral pain relievers. You will be provided with specific instructions about when to take each during the day. Most oral pain relievers are intended to be taken every four hours. It is highly recommended to take them before any activity or going to bed to ensure a restful night of sleep. Do not wait for your pain to become unbearable before taking your pain medication. It takes time for the medicine to work and may not be able to control the pain when it becomes too severe.

Keep Your Head Elevated At All Times Even When Sleeping.

It is a common recommendation for post-op patients to keep their heads head elevated at all times during the first few weeks after operation because it reduces risks of swelling and minimizes the post-surgery pain by preventing unnecessary pressure and strain on the incision sites. It also promotes wound healing. Staying cozy in a recliner at home or in your hotel room is perhaps the easiest way to maintain this position. Propping yourself up with some pillows while sitting in an upright position can also do the trick.

Sleep As Much As You Can

It is a common recommendation for post-op patients to keep their heads head elevated at all times during the first few weeks after operation because it reduces risks of swelling and minimizes the post-surgery pain by preventing unnecessary pressure and strain on the incision sites. It also promotes wound healing. Staying cozy in a recliner at home or in your hotel room is perhaps the easiest way to maintain this position. Propping yourself up with some pillows while sitting in an upright position can also do the trick.

A relaxing recovery room


When preparing for your FTM top surgery, don’t forget to set up your intended recovery room, whether at home or in your hotel room. 

  • Make sure it’s well equipped with air-conditioning or heating, depending on the current climate condition when you have your surgery. Having control over the room temperature can work wonders for staying comfortable always while you’re recuperating.
  • Plan how you’re going to sleep while keeping yourself elevated. You can invest in a recliner chair if recovering from home or get those back-support pillows and neck rest if you’re flying to get your top surgery in Canada. These things are going to stay comfortable without straining your chest area.
  • Playing soft, soothing, and relaxing kind of music have its own healing and therapeutic benefits. It sets the mood for you and promotes positive feelings by giving you a form of mental escape. Keep your earphones or listening devices within reach.

At McLean Clinic, we provide our patients with the highest quality of treatment and unlimited support 24/7 during recovery. If you’re interested in getting an FTM top surgery done but have fears about post-surgery pain, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. Dr. Hugh McLean will be more than happy to explain the countless ways we help our patients manage pain and ensure a speedy recovery

Contact us today to book your free consultation!

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