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How Painful Is Transgender Surgery? Four Tips For Managing Pain After Surgery

Gender-affirming surgery has well-documented health benefits. Having your external sex characteristics better match your gender identity is associated with better long-term mental health and a higher quality of life. However, the first few weeks or months after surgery can be difficult due to the pain some patients experience during recovery. 

Pain after transgender surgery varies depending on the type of surgery you underwent. Bottom surgery typically has a longer recovery time than breast augmentation or minor adjustments to your facial structure. However, all surgeries can cause patients some degree of pain. 

Luckily, pain after transgender surgery is rarely unbearable and can typically be managed with at-home treatment. After a few months, most patients will no longer experience significant pain and can begin to enjoy the benefits of gender-affirming surgery. 

Pain management after Transgender surgery

Ask Your Doctor For Specific Advice 

The first step to addressing post-surgical pain is to have a conversation with your practitioner before and after surgery. There is no one-size-fits-all option for pain management, and your practitioner will take your medical history and specific treatment path into account. 

Your practitioner can give you prescriptions for painkillers and advise you on which over-the-counter medications may be most beneficial to you. They can also give you a referral to a physical therapist. After bottom surgery especially, physical therapy is highly recommended to address post-surgical pain (more on this below). 

Follow any aftercare instructions you receive closely, including taking medication exactly as instructed. Not only can this help you manage pain post-surgery, it prevents complications – which can make the discomfort worse.

Use Ice Packs Or Cold Compresses 

Pain management after gender-affirming surgery isn’t always complicated. Many of the same techniques you would use to manage any other type of pain work just as well – including the classic ice pack or cold compress. This helps prevent not only pain but bruising and swelling associated with surgery. Ice packs and cold compresses work particularly well for female-to-male top surgery. 

Make sure never to place an ice pack or cold compress directly on your skin, as this could cause nerve damage. Always wrap it in a cloth or paper towel first, and never apply an ice pack longer than 15 to 20 minutes. 

Set Up A Recovery Room

The less you move the better after undergoing gender reassignment surgery. Not only does this help you manage pain, but getting extra rest helps you recover faster and prevents complications. Before your surgery, set up a recovery room where you’ll have everything you need within reach. 

If you live in a two-story house, keep your recovery downstairs, as going up and down the stairs can be difficult post-surgery. Set up a TV table near where you’ll be sleeping that has any items you might need – such as tissue paper, medications, water, and phone chargers. In addition to your basic physical needs, make sure you have supplies for entertainment as well. You may get bored resting post-surgery, so keep items such as books and electronic devices nearby to keep you occupied. 

Patients who underwent top surgery often need extra back support to avoid putting strain on their chests. Your practitioner may advise you to keep your head elevated when you sleep. If you have a recliner, it is best to sleep there. If not, invest in back support and neck rests before surgery. 

Try Physical Therapy 

Finally, if your pain persists for months after surgery, talk to your practitioner about physical therapy. In most cases, substantial pain clears up within two months, but some patients experience pain longer. In these cases, physical therapy can help.

Types of physical therapy vary from patient to patient. For bottom surgery, for example, pelvic floor physical therapy is particularly helpful. A conversation with your practitioner can help you determine what type of physical therapy would be most beneficial to you. 

Certain health conditions may make you more likely to have lingering pain after surgery, especially health issues that cause chronic pain themselves. If you have a pre-existing condition, talk to your practitioner before surgery. They may advise you to try physical therapy post-surgery as a preemptive measure. 

Pain management After Transgender Surgery – The Bottom Line 

Gender-affirming surgery can be massively beneficial to your mental well-being. However, post-surgical pain can linger for months, which can dampen your initial excitement over results. Be patient. Rest, relaxation, and classic pain management techniques can help you recover as quickly and comfortably as possible. 

Considering gender-affirming surgery? Leif Rogers, MD, is an Ivy League-educated, board-certified plastic surgeon. If you’re interested in gender-affirming surgery, get in touch with his team to schedule a consultation. 

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