How to describe pain after surgery

Aug 26, 2021

If you've been trying to describe what pain feels like after breast surgery to your medical professional, and been stumped with what wording to use, this blog post will help you.

As a massage therapist, we learn a lot of words about pain along the way, as it is our job to help lessen it.  Below are terms we use, and the sensations they are describing.


Terms to describe pain

  • Sharp - fast, pointed, specific and usually in one area and can point to with a finger, may temporarily cease your activity
  • Shooting - moves quickly from one point to another, may have a searing quality to it.  May be a one off or continuous firing 
  • Aching - non-specific, covers a broader area, feels deeper and bothersome but you can usually carry on your activities despite the area aching
  • Dull ache - low grade and diffuse, hard to point to one spot with a finger but instead will often cover an area, will not usually stop activities but will be bothersome
  • Pins & needles - diffuse pin pricks of pain over an area, may be a patch or at fingers and toes, or in a limb if it's been "asleep" and is waking up
  • Referred - pressing on one area creates pain in another.  An example is when you press a knot in your upper shoulder and it creates pain in your head
  • Electrical - has a hot electric quality to it, will often be shooting from one place to another, usually fast and burning, may cease activity
  • Nagging - pain that lingers and "keep talking", it just won't quit and keep nattering away at you, often can keep going with activity
  • Cramping - muscles quickly compress and cease to work, often hot compressive pain, may cease activity, common after intense exercise or movement
  • Spasm - Similar to a cramp but will be more ongoing, more like a series of cramps and may have have a quivering quality to it, often ceases activity
  • Intense - pain which is significant, deep, hard to handle, may cause you to hold your breath, hopefully temporary, may cease activity
  • Deep - feels like it's way inside your body, not at the surface, may make you grit your teeth together
  • Burning - feels hot or very hot, may have a pricking sensation to it
  • Ripping - feels like tissue is tearing apart, may feel at the skin level, may have hot quality to it


After surgery, your body is trying to adapt to its new format, and pain may be a part of that process. 

Not all pain is bad, because it may signify nerves are waking up after being in a dull shock.  It may also prompt you to do activities in a different way that is more friendly to your body. 

Sometimes pain is...well...a pain!! In the you-know-what! We wish it would go away and don't know how to make it so.  

A trip to your massage therapist can go a long way towards lessening the pain, as well as breathing and relaxing into it (even if that sounds counter-intuitive, it really does help).

Keep me in touch!

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