I'm very distressed because my mother is in the hospital for back surgery. She seems to be in a lot of pain but the nurses won't give her anything more for it. They don't seem to really believe Mom. What can we do?

Adequate pain control after spinal surgery has been an age-old problem. Nurses can't always respond right away to patients' requests for pain relievers. When this happens, pain can escalate and get out of hand.

Studies show that nurses often underestimate pain intensity of patients after surgery. The nurse’s assessment of the patient's pain and the patient's self-report may be very different. Nurses are concerned about drug tolerance or drug dependency and tend to err on the side of caution.

Sometimes patients' anxiety gets in the way. Worry and fatigue can increase a patient's pain perception. There may be other factors influencing pain frequency, intensity, or duration.

It can be helpful to keep a chart of your mother's pain levels. Ask her to rate her pain from zero (no pain) to 10 (worst pain). Monitor her levels before and after she receives any drugs for pain. This will help show if the medication is working. Perhaps she just needs a change in dosage. Or she may need a different drug altogether.

Check with the doctor to make sure he or she is tuned into your mother's pain levels. It's always helpful when a family member can let the nurse or doctor know when the patient's pain levels seem out of control.