How long does post surgical pain last?

Pain levels can continue for weeks to months after surgery. Depending on the type of surgery, the intensity of pain levels at 48 hours after your surgery can be a predictor of when you can return to normal activity. A recent study found that for most patients with pain  levels  at 50%,  48 hours after their day of surgery, pain levels would drop to 40% after seven days, and 30% after 3 months.Those first two days can help predict how long pain may last after your surgery. Unfortunately, this also demonstrates that pain levels after surgery can be quite high and persistent even after surgery.

Given the clinical goals of acupuncture treatment, pain levels can be controlled or reduced for patients with post surgery pain whether you’ve had pain for weeks, months, or years. This article seeks to review research relevant to post surgical pain and how acupuncture reduces pain and speeds healing.

How long does post surgical fatigue last?

Both nausea and fatigue occur normally right after surgery. Lingering post surgery fatigue for days and weeks after surgery is an uncommon phenomenon that is catching the eye of more and more research. The proposed mechanisms for lingering fatigue after surgery have to do with poor activity levels, nutritional stores, muscle loss, and poor cardiac output. Let’s unpack this into a simple story. After a long surgery the body is depleted, tired, and in pain. This results in a lot of bed rest, low appetite, and muscle wasting, which then results in further lingering fatigue.  It’s important to be aware these are proposed mechanisms that really need more research to understand fully. 

Acupuncture has a really positive effect on post surgery nausea but it may not be the best option for post surgery fatigue depending on the clinical situation. A better beginning option for post surgery fatigue would be more food therapy, exercise therapy, pain management (using caution due to fatigue), and Chinese herbal remedies with adaptogenic properties.

What are the benefits of Acupuncture for post surgery pain, fatigue, and nausea?

The benefit of acupuncture for nausea and pain after surgery has been well researched. The Acupuncture Research Project lists both post surgery pain and post surgery nausea as two conditions with clear and positive benefit. For those of you interested in research, the Acupuncture Research Project is a comprehensive literature review, which is a review of hundreds of articles. Or simply put, thousands upon thousands of patients found acupuncture reduced their pain and  nausea after surgery. 

Acupuncture treatments are focused on creating normally circulating healthy tissue. Given this treatment goal, it is no surprise that acupuncture would be helpful for post surgery conditions like pain and nausea. Acupuncture is focused on getting the body to heal quickly and as fully as possible. 

What does post surgery pain, fatigue, and nausea look like in the clinic?

Dr. Mark is the best.  I saw him for 4 weeks leading up to a major surgery and have recovered better than anyone, according to my surgeon.  Most people take 3-6 weeks off after this kind of surgery and I was back to work in 5 days and back to doing everything – laundry, stairs, carrying stuff, etc. within 10 days (except exercising – just walking for 6 weeks).  I love how he combines western and eastern practices to deliver amazing results using all available modalities.  He is even in network with some insurance companies which is nice.

Kimberly Cunningham

Dr. Mark VanOtterloo is a licensed acupuncturist and Doctor of Acupuncture, located in Wheat Ridge, Colorado. He is an integrative, functional medicine practitioner specializing in chronic disease and women’s health. To learn more about how acupuncture can help with your pain, fatigue, scarring, or nausea after surgery, schedule an appointment online.

Article References:

Rosén HI, Bergh IH, Odén A, Mårtensson LB. Patients´ experiences of pain following day surgery – at 48 hours, seven days and three months. Open Nurs J. 2011;5:52-59. doi:10.2174/1874434601105010052

Rose EA, King TC. Understanding postoperative fatigue. Surg Gynecol Obstet. 1978 Jul;147(1):97-102. PMID: 351838.

McDonald J, Janz S. The Acupuncture Evidence Project: A Comparative Literature Review (Revised edition). © Australian Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine Association Ltd, 2017: