Learn About Pain Medication Management
One part of our multidisciplinary approach, pain medications can be broadly classified into two categories: prescription and nonprescription. Nonprescription drugs have several mild anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen, naproxen), as well as acetaminophen. Medications can block or manage pain, prevent swelling, and treat related problems. You may be prescribed more than one medication over the course of your treatment. Medications may be adjusted or changed as you feel better, or if they cause side effects. We realize that not all pain treatments need to utilize pain medications for you to be painless.
Why was I given pain medication?
Sometimes pain medications are given to you to help manage chronic or acute pain that cannot be treated with traditional means. Typically, pain medication is given after an operation. Pain after an operation (also called post-op pain) is normal and expected. Follow our guidelines to help you stay as comfortable as possible.
Make sure to take your medications on time. Do not wait until the pain is severe.
Taking Pain Medications
- Take your medications on time. Do not take more than prescribed.
- Take only the medications that your health care provider tells you to take.
- Take your pain medications with some food to avoid an upset stomach.
- Don’t drink alcohol while using your pain medications.
Call your doctor if you notice any of these symptoms:
- Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, lasting constipation, or stomach cramps
- Problems breathing or a fast heart rate
- Feeling very tired, sluggish, or dizzy
- Skin rash
Can I become addicted to pain medication?
Addiction can arise as the body craves for certain medications. Addiction is of concern for some patients who are prescribed opioids. Opioids are man-made pain relievers. They do not contain opium. Addiction is very uncommon if these medications are used as directed by your doctor. It is normal, though, for the body to get used to opioids. This is called physical dependence. You may feel shaky, for instance, if you stop treatment too quickly. To avoid this, you will be eased off opioids by your physician as your treatment ends.
What are the types of pain medication?
There are a couple different types of pain medications that help with the pain relief process. They range from opioids to analgesics. Learn more about the types of pain medications below.
Medications What They Do Possible Side Effects Analgesics (non-opioid and NSAID) Remove feelings of pain. Used for mild to moderate pain. May prevent joint and soft tissue inflammation. Nausea, stomach pain, ulcers, indigestion, diarrhea, bleeding, kidney or liver problems. Opioids A type of analgesic. Remove feelings of pain. Used for moderate to severe pain. Nausea, vomiting, drowsiness, constipation, slowed breathing. Other Medications (steroids, antiemetics, antidepressants, and anticonvulsants) Reduce swelling, burning or tingling pain. Limit certain side effects of pain medications. Your health care provider will explain the possible side effects of these medications. Anesthetics Stop pain signals from reaching the brain. They block all feeling in the treated area. Nausea, low blood pressure, fever, slowed breathing, fainting, seizures, heart attack.
When it comes to opioids and non-, there are a couple of major differences.
- Can be over-the-counter (such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen) or prescription
- All pain medications relieve mild to moderate pain and some reduce swelling
- Possible side effects include upset stomach and bleeding
- Always prescription
- Relieve severe pain
- Possible side effects include: upset stomach, nausea, and itching
- May cause constipation (to help prevent this, eat high-fiber foods and drink plenty of water)
With pain medication, there are many different delivery systems. You may use pills, patches, or a special pump. As you feel better, the way you take medications may change due to the delivery system of the pain medications. Below are the common delivery systems of pain medication.
Pills and Tablets
Some of these medications are swallowed while others can be dissolved in the mouth. They are usually rounded shapes that allow the patient to easily take the medication.
Patches and Suppositories
A patch placed on the skin provides medication over a few days. This is due to the skin’s ability to absorb medications. Some medications, called suppositories, are placed in the rectum.
IVs and PCA Pumps
With IV (intravenous) delivery, a catheter (small tube) sends medications into a vein in the hand or forearm. With a PCA (patient-controlled analgesia) pump, you push a button to receive a dose.
In some cases, injections are used for overall pain relief. Injections can also relieve or manage pain in specific areas. For instance, a steroid injection into a joint can block joint pain. Or a nerve block might be used.
Regional anesthesia controls severe pain. Medications are delivered near the spine. These methods (epidural or spinal) block pain in one section of the body, often from the waist down.
When to Call the Health Care Provider
Call your health care provider right away (or have a family member call) if you have:
- Unrelieved pain
- Side effects, including constipation or uncontrolled nausea, that interfere with daily activities
- Extreme sleepiness or breathing problems
Peripherally Inserted Central Catheter (PICC)
A PICC is a temporary tube that takes the place of an IV (intravenous) line. It is often used when medication or nutrition need to be given over a period of weeks or even months.
Why Is a PICC Needed?
A PICC may be the best choice because it:
- Can stay in place longer than an IV, reducing the the number of needle sticks during the course of treatment.
- Reduces damage to small veins, where an IV would normally be inserted.
- May have more than one channel, so that different fluids or medications can be given at the same time.
Before the Procedure
Follow any instructions you are given on how to prepare, including:
- Tell the technologist what medications, herbs, or supplements you take; if you are, or may be, pregnant; or if you are allergic to any medications or substances.
During the Procedure
- Your health care professionals will have you lie on an x-ray table for the length of the procedure.
- An IV may be started to give you fluids and medications. You may be given medication through the IV to help you relax.
- An area on the inside of the upper arm is cleaned. A local anesthetic is injected into this area. A needle is then put through the skin into a vein. Ultrasound images of the needle are viewed on a video monitor.
- A guide wire is moved along the vein to one of the large central veins in the chest.
- A catheter (thin, flexible tube) is threaded over the guide wire to the central vein. The guide wire is then removed.
- The outside end of the catheter is taped or sutured into place to the inside of the arm.
- A chest x-ray may be done to make sure the catheter is in the correct position.
After the Procedure
- You will be given instructions for treating the site. Care for the catheter site as directed.
Potential Risks and Complications
- Infection at incision site or internally
- Blood clots in the catheter
- Breakage or blockage of catheter
- Accidental dislodgement of catheter
Common Myths About Pain Medications
Being in pain can be exhausting. It can affect your ability to eat, sleep, or just do day-to-day tasks. Pain medications can help relieve some of your pain and make daily life easier. They are likely to be part of your management for chronic pain. Below are some common myths about pain medications.
Myth: Medications will cure my pain.
Fact: Medications can help control and manage chronic pain, but they rarely cure it.
Myth: If my usual dose helps a little, a larger dose will help a lot.
Fact: Taking a larger dose of medication may be dangerous. If you feel that you need to increase your dose, consult your healthcare provider.
Myth: I shouldn’t take medication unless I’m in severe pain.
Fact: Preventing pain from developing is much easier than treating pain once it has begun. For best results, take pain medication on schedule.
Myth: Taking pain pills means I’m weak.
Fact: Feeling pain is not a moral failing. It is a medical problem. Taking medication can help you get more out of your other treatments.
Myth: I’ll get addicted.
Fact: Psychological addiction to pain medication is very rare. Long-term use of some medications may lead to increased tolerance (needing to take more for the same effect). Or it may cause physical dependence. This means you’ll need to “taper off” if you and your doctor decide to stop the medication. But this is a normal response to medication and doesn’t make you an addict.
Managing Chronic Pain: Medications
Medications can help you live better with chronic pain. You may use over-the-counter or prescription medications. Work with your doctor to find the best medication for you, and to use it safely and effectively.
Tell your healthcare professional about all medications you`re taking, including herbs and vitamins.
A Part of Your Treatment Plan
Depending on your situation and the type of pain, you may take medications:
- To help break the pain cycle.
- At times when pain is more intense than usual.
- For daily relief.
- Before activities that tend to trigger pain.
- To decrease sensitivity to pain and help you sleep.
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) such as aspirin and ibuprofen treat both pain and inflammation.
- Acetaminophen is often taken for pain when there is no inflammation.
- Cox-2 inhibitors are NSAIDs that may be easier on your stomach.
- Opiates, such as codeine, and related medications may be used to treat breakthrough pain or severe chronic pain.
These are often used in low doses for sleep problems, even in people who are not depressed. They may also be prescribed if you have heightened sensitivity to pain.
- Anticonvulsants are sometimes used to treat neuropathic pain.
- Topical medications are applied to the skin to treat pain in one location.
- Muscle relaxants may be used to stop painful muscle spasms.
Taking Medication Safely
- Take your medication on time and in the right dose.
- Tell your healthcare professional if your medication doesn’t relieve your pain or work for a long enough time, or if you have side effects.
- Don’t take other people’s medications. They may not be safe for you.
- Avoid alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs. These may interact with your medications or make your pain worse.