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7 Ways to Deal With Pain While Waiting for Surgery (2021 Update)

While the wind-down of the pandemic has meant a return to increased activity for many people, for some it’s also meant a return to more physical pain.

Because some surgeries, especially non-essential procedures, may be backed up because of pandemic-related postponements, patients who were counting on surgery to relieve their pain may be faced with the prospect of dealing with that pain for an extended amount of time.

Even when there’s a full return to normal circumstances you may find yourself waiting for a joint replacement or other procedure.

If you’re faced with an extended period of dealing with pain, here are some things to try that could help.


As much as you may want to be outside, doing active things, this is a good time to just rest for a while.

Yes, it’s important to stay active, but if you’re in pain, there’s something to be said for just relaxing for the time being.

This is especially helpful after being on your feet for a while. Try spacing your daily activities throughout the day to allow for periods of rest.

It’s certainly worth a try.

Avoid Painful Situations

You’ve probably seen or heard the old joke that starts with a patient telling his doctor, “Hey, doc — it hurts when I do this [moves body part].”

At that point, the doctor, or the comedian telling the story playing the doctor’s part, says, “Well, don’t do that!”

It may be a joke, but it’s no joke when it comes to treating pain. Often the best way to avoid pain is to avoid doing whatever it is that’s causing the pain.

Pain, after all, is a result of inflammation and irritation of nerves. If you can avoid inflaming or irritating the nerves, you should be able to avoid at least some of the pain.

Obviously, this has limits. You need to move around — and as we’ll discuss later, it’s important in many cases to move around.

But for instance, if you’re a tennis player and serving a tennis ball makes your shoulder hurt… stop serving a tennis ball. If you must play games involving serving, serve underhand. Otherwise, just rally with a partner.

Another way to approach this is to do an activity just to the point where it starts to get painful, then stop. If you can detect that point at which something is just starting to get painful, and stop the activity at that point, you can have the best of both worlds — you can stay active and avoid pain.

Maybe a better way of stating this point is “Avoid Painful Situations … But Stay Active.” Because that’s your goal.

Do Gentle Motion Exercises

Especially in cases where rough cartilage may be causing pain, gentle motion exercises are great for smoothing and polishing painful joints.

The key here is to do non-load-bearing exercises. That can mean spinning on an exercise bike with little or no resistance, or doing arm circles without weights or bands.

If you decide to try some exercises, be sure to let your doctor or physical therapist know, and stop if it hurts. Remember, the keyword here is “gentle.” Nothing wild or high-speed.

Think of these exercises as joint polishers, just the way you’d polish your car or your furniture, and you may be able to make some progress toward alleviating your pain.

Physical Therapy Exercises

Perhaps your doctor or physical therapist gave you some exercises to help you manage your pain. Perhaps you haven’t been keeping up with the program as well as you should.

Now’s the time to get back on track. Review any exercise program you may have been given. If you haven’t been doing your exercises, or haven’t been doing them as regularly as you should, pick back up.

This is also a great time to review your exercise material to ensure you are doing exercises correctly. It’s easy to fall into bad habits with exercises, especially with no one there to guide you. This is the perfect time to make sure that whatever exercises you’ve been assigned, you’re doing them correctly.

Also, if you need additional physical-therapy appointments, try to schedule them well in advance, as demand for physical-therapy services is currently quite high.


Medications aren’t a cure-all; however, they can absolutely help in some instances with some conditions.

Non-steroidal medications (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen or naproxen, or other medications like acetaminophen (Tylenol), can help control your pain. Remember to follow dose instructions on the bottle and never exceed the maximum daily limit.

The important thing with NSAIDs is to keep a steady and appropriate dose in your system. Follow dosing guidelines regularly; don’t vary dosages or the times you take your medications.

If you have a prescription medication for your pain, be sure to take only the prescribed amount. Too little may not be helpful and too much can be harmful.

If you need a refill for prescription pain medication, talk to your doctor about your pain, your need for pain medication, and ways you might be able to wean off prescription medication when the time comes.

Braces and Other Supports

Braces can help increase the stability of joints, can maintain alignment, and can help with pain from arthritis and other sources.

A variety of braces can help with pain and joint stability, ranging from lace-up braces to unloader braces to post-operative boots to simple elastic sleeves. The type of brace recommended for you is often based on a combination of factors, including the affected body part, the type of injury, and the amount of movement that can realistically be limited.

If you have a brace as part of your pain-management regimen and you haven’t been wearing it, now might be a good time to start wearing it again.

However, it’s important to check with your doctor’s staff or your physical therapist before wearing a brace again for extended periods.

If pain is severely impeding your ability to get around, you may also want to consider supportive devices like a cane or walker.


Pain is caused by inflammation, and unhealthy diets can make inflammation worse.

Switching to a healthy fat, quality protein and vegetable diet can help reduce inflammation. You may not see the results right away, and they might not be significant. But diets like these can improve your overall health, which is tremendously important if you’re dealing with pain.

For more information regarding inflammation and a fostering a healthy diet visit Sweet Spot Nutrition.

Pain can be hard to manage, and one approach by itself might not be enough to help you deal with pain while you’re waiting for surgery. However, a combination of multiple approaches may make your pain easier to bear, and may help you better navigate the days until your surgery takes place.

Questions? We’re always here to help.

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