Medical Reviewer: Dhira Khosla D.O.
Undergoing surgery can be an intimidating process, no matter how minor or major the procedure. And for many, postoperative recovery isn’t the sense of relief they expected. From residual pain to grogginess and open wounds, it can take a long time for your body to fully heal after an operation.
Tremors after surgery are another side effect that may impact your recovery. Post-surgery tremors occur as a result of anesthetics used during certain procedures. In this post, we’ll examine why some patients experience shaking after surgery, the related side effects, and what you can do to mitigate body tremors after surgery. Read on for a detailed overview, or use the links below to navigate to each section.
What is a Post-Surgery Tremor?
Post-surgery tremors, also known as postanesthesia shaking, are a side effect that often occurs after an individual receives general anesthesia during surgery. Shaking after surgery is a very common response, and with treatment under the guidance of a physician, it can be managed.
The exact cause is unclear, but research suggests that post-surgery tremors may occur for a few reasons, including:
- Hypothermia: When tremors are triggered as a response to an abnormal body temperature during surgery. Some research suggests that the body’s natural response—shaking after surgery—can be effective in helping the body normalize temperature.
- Nonthermogenic: When tremors after surgery happen as a result of pain modulation, surgical stress, or opioid withdrawals after pain medication has been administered during surgery.
Symptoms of post-surgery tremors
Post-surgery tremors affect everyone differently, and some not at all. Symptoms of post-surgery tremors may include shivering, shaking, pain, feeling distressed, and a reduction in body temperature. Medical professionals measure postoperative tremors on a 0-to-3 visual grading scale.
Are Tremors After Surgery Normal?
Yes, tremors after surgery are very common. In some patients, shivering after surgery is severe, while others may be less affected. While they may cause additional discomfort after surgery, tremors will typically go away on their own after 20-30 minutes into the postoperative process.
To help prevent hypothermic tremors after surgery, medical staff take certain steps to keep your body warm before you even enter the operation room. There are several ways you and your care team can prevent post-surgery tremors:
- Keep the body warm with blankets before the operation—nurses will typically include this in preoperative care.
- Bring extra clothes to help you stay warm within the hospital—remember, hospitals will usually be much colder than your home.
- Alert medical staff if you feel cold at any point during your stay at the hospital.
If your body is warm before your procedure, you’re not as likely to experience a severe temperature drop that could trigger tremors.
Treatment Options for Post-Surgery Tremors
Although some preventative strategies help mitigate post-surgery tremors, they may still affect some patients. Let’s take a look at some of the postoperative measures that can be used to target tremors after surgery.
Hypothermia is a common contributing factor to post-surgery tremors; therefore, temperature regulation is a typical approach used to combat shaking after an operation. Here are some of the ways medical staff may help patients generate body heat after surgery:
- Applying warm blankets
- Administering warm beverages when you’re cleared to drink
Nurses may also use drugs such as pethidine, clonidine, and doxapram to treat tremors after surgery. It’s important to note that none of these drugs are considered to be 100% effective, and they may cause side effects. If your tremors are related to pain after surgery, the medical staff may use pain management medications to address discomfort.
Some research suggests that acetaminophen such as Tylenol may also be effective in treating tremors after surgery.
While shivering after surgery is common and usually non-threatening, shaking may increase your body’s need for oxygen. For this reason, nurses may have patients use an oxygen mask to deliver additional oxygen to the body.
Note: According to the Royal College of Anesthetists, if you have experienced tremors after one procedure, it does not mean you will always respond to other surgeries or anesthesia in the same way.
Other Types of Tremors
Post-surgery tremors are a temporary response to surgery, but there are several other types of tremors that present similar symptoms. If you have persistent shaking, you may be experiencing some other kind of tremor. Understanding the different types of tremors can help you and your physician characterize your symptoms, and hopefully, rule out more serious conditions. So, what are tremors that are not associated with surgery? Let’s take a look at some other conditions that may cause shaking.
- Essential tremor: Also referred to as ET, essential tremor is a condition that is categorized by involuntary shaking throughout the body. Essential tremor can affect the hands, head, arms, leg, torso, and even be present when speaking. The condition is the most common movement disorder in the United States, and generally affects the elderly. Although it is not life-threatening, essential tremor can make completing daily tasks challenging and negatively impact quality of life.
- Parkinsonian tremor: Parkinson’s disease is another form of adult-onset tremor. While the shaking symptoms may present similarly, there are some important differences between essential tremor and Parkinson’s. In addition to trembling, individuals with Parkinson’s may experience the following symptoms:
- Stooped posture
- Short gait, characterized by shuffling feet
- Tremors in hands and legs
- Forward tilting of the upper body
- Limited arm movement
- Balance issues
How to approach tremor treatment
The tremor treatment you receive will depend on the type of tremor you’re diagnosed with, your body, and physician’s recommendations. Below, we’ll discuss some of the treatment options available to individuals affected by essential tremor or Parkinson’s disease.
- Treatment for ET may include essential tremor medications, such as:
- Botox Injections
Note: Essential tremor medications can cause serious side effects that should be considered before beginning a pharmaceutical treatment regimen.
- Surgical treatment via deep-brain stimulation, Gamma-Knife, or focused ultrasound surgery.
- Non-Pharmaceutical Medication Therapy, including Cala Trio’s groundbreaking essential tremor bracelet. This device calibrates to your tremor, sending electrical signals to the nerves in your wrist. These signals communicate with central brain networks to help hand tremor symptoms, enhancing your ability to complete daily tasks and resume the quality of life.
Cala Trio therapy is the only medical device cleared by the FDA to treat essential tremor without the risk of surgery or pharmaceutical side effects. Find out if Cala Trio therapy is right for you.Check Eligibility
Parkison’s disease treatment
- Medication: Carbidopa/Levodopa is considered the most common treatment for Parkinson’s disease. It can be used in conjunction with other drugs if your doctor recommends it.
- Surgery: Deep brain stimulation can be an effective surgical treatment choice for both ET and Parkinson’s disease.
- Alternative therapy: Physical and speech therapy, in addition to drugs, may help people with Parkinson’s retain greater control of their gestures, voice level, and ability to talk clearly.
Whether you’re having a complicated or straightforward surgery, the process can be very intimidating and distressing at some points. While tremors after surgery are a very common response to general anesthesia, they can be extremely uncomfortable. Knowing what to expect and how your caregivers may treat your tremors can give you peace of mind going into a procedure.
Keep in mind, post-surgery tremors are normal and can be effectively treated with the help of a medical professional.
If you suffer from persistent tremors unrelated to surgery, learn how Cala Trio can help you manage your essential tremor symptoms.
MKG-1174 Rev A May 2021