Overview

All surgeries involve a degree of discomfort and, in many cases, pain. Some surgeries, though, are more painful than others. In some cases, the surgery may leave you feeling extremely uncomfortable only immediately after the surgery. In other cases, the discomfort lasts for several weeks or longer as you recover.

These seven surgeries are some of the more anecdotally painful surgeries you may need at some point in your life. It’s important to remember, though, that everyone experiences pain differently, and what you find to be unbearable painful may barely phase another person.

1. Gallbladder removal (cholecystectomy)

There are two types of cholecystectomy: laparoscopic cholecystectomy and open cholecystectomy. Recovery for a laparoscopic cholecystectomy is usually pretty quick and doesn’t cause an extreme amount of pain or discomfort. Many people who have an open cholecystectomy, on the other hand, find it painful both immediately following surgery and throughout the recovery period.

The discomfort may last for four to six weeks, but it should leave you with less pain than you were in before the surgery. That’s because most people who have gallbladder surgery have significant pain that may be their primary motivation for seeking treatment in the first place.

Learn more: What is open gallbladder removal? »

2. Liposuction

Liposuction is an elective procedure. It involves the removal of subcutaneous fat and body sculpting. You may choose to have liposuction if you find that you tend to store an unevenly distributed amount of fat in a certain area, like under your arms or in your thighs. The immediate result is bruising and severe discomfort that usually surprises people if it’s their first time having this procedure. Recovery time will be determined by the amount of fat that was removed and the location of the procedure. It may last a few days, or you may have soreness for several weeks.

3. Bone marrow donation

This is an act of incredible generosity that's made even more inspiring by the high level of pain involved. Donors say that there's nothing quite like it, but it helps to know that someone benefits from the pain, whether you’re donating to a stranger or loved one.

According to the BeTheMatch Foundation, 84 percent of donors experience back or hip pain. The median recovery time is 20 days, though you should be able to resume most activities within one to seven days of the procedure.

4. Dental implants

The recovery period from dental implants can be long and painful. The actual procedure usually only involves minimal pain from the injection of anesthesia, but the following months of recovery can be extremely painful. You may experience bruising in your mouth, swelling, and bleeding.

The most difficult part of this surgery is that every time you eat foods that require using your teeth, you will experience pain.

5. Total hip replacement

The surgery varies for people in terms of how painful it is, but most people agree that the recovery and rehabilitation process involves a high degree of pain. The pain can radiate from the hip into other parts of the body, including the legs and groin. Full recovery may take six to 12 months, though you should be able to resume most normal activities within six to eight weeks following the procedure.

Learn more: What are the treatment options for hip arthritis? »

6. Abdominal hysterectomy

Unlike a laparoscopic hysterectomy, which generally has a lower level of discomfort, the discomfort and soreness from an abdominal hysterectomy can last for many weeks after the surgery. Because the abdominal muscles are used for many of the movements you make during the day, even things like standing up or rolling over in bed can be painful following the surgery.

7. Lumbar puncture (spinal tap)

A lumbar puncture involves withdrawing cerebrospinal fluid from the spinal column using a needle. Many people experience a severe headache immediately 24 to 48 hours after the procedure, in addition to pain. The pain should begin to resolve in a few days.

Tips for recovery

It’s important to follow your doctor’s recommendations for recovery. For many of the surgeries in this list, that will involve resting for a short time after the surgery. You may need to make temporary lifestyle changes, such as not lifting heavy items, or eating soft foods. Your doctor may also prescribe pain medication to help manage your pain. Always take medication as prescribed. If you have any questions, call your doctor or pharmacist. Good questions to ask your doctor or pharmacist about pain medication include:

  • How often should I take it? How many pills should I take each time?
  • What medications should I avoid taking while using this pain killer?
  • Should I take it with food?
  • Will it make me drowsy?
  • How long should I use it?
  • How should I dispose of my medication if I don’t use all of it?

Recovery tips

  • Follow your doctor’s recommendations.
  • Take pain medication as prescribed. Ask your doctor or pharmacist if you have any questions about dosage, or how or when to take your medication.
  • Follow up with your doctor if your pain is not improving or is getting worse, or if you notice any new symptoms.

If your pain is unmanageable or gets worse, call your doctor. They can determine if your pain is normal or if you need to come in for a follow-up appointment. All surgeries have a risk for side effects in addition to pain. Ask your doctor what symptoms to watch out for and what you should do if you notice any side effects.