How Often Should Pain Medications Be Taken?

If you have recently had surgery, or you suffer from chronic pain, you may wonder if you should take the pain medication as prescribed by your doctor. Given so much discussion these days about opioid and painkiller addictions, it may seem reasonable to modify the prescription on your own, perhaps skipping a dose when you don't feel you need it. For example, if your prescription says to take your pain medication every four hours but you don't feel any pain, should you continue to take the medicine as prescribed or wait until you feel pain?

It is best to follow the prescribed dosage and schedule exactly. Your healthcare provider has no doubt made a careful decision about how much pain medication you should take and how often you should take it to achieve the best possible relief of your pain. Your important job is to take your pain medication exactly as prescribed.

Close-up of woman holding medication pills
Jose Luis Pelaez Inc / Getty Images

Why You Should Always Follow Your Prescription

Beyond ensuring you are comfortable, your pain medication prescription may also reduce the chances of complications developing after surgery, for example, like blood clots or even pneumonia. Pain medication can also improve your recovery. Simple acts like walking regularly can improve your condition, and if your pain is well managed through your prescribed medication, this can help you better accomplish these acts.

Prescriptions for "Breakthrough Pain"

There are cases in which your health care provider may prescribe a medication for you to take when you feel pain and may be in addition to a regularly scheduled medication plan. This is often referred to as medication for breakthrough pain. This medication is taken as needed for pain between regularly scheduled doses, and it is important to take the medication as soon as you feel pain. If you wait too long, you increase the likelihood that the medication won't work or that you will have to take more of it to have an effect.

Consult Your Health Care Provider Before Making Changes

It is always easier to prevent pain rather than treat it. Skipping a dose or waiting until you feel the pain to take a scheduled dose will likely interfere with your physician's pain management plan and may result in you suffering from pain unnecessarily. Waiting until you are feeling pain may not end up managing your pain. In cases like this, some patients may be inclined to take more of the medication outside of the physician's prescription to deal with this. This can lead to serious problems.

If you have questions about your prescription, perhaps because you feel it is not managing your pain or you feel like you are over medicated—for example, if you are very drowsy, confused, or dizzy—tell your health care provider. It is normal to be drowsy and want to sleep during the first few days after starting or increasing pain medications and it should improve as your body adjusts.

Always consult your doctor first before any changes to your medication are made. Your doctor will be aware of many factors in your case that informed the decision on your current prescription—factors you may not be aware of, including interactions with other drugs you may be taking or impacts the medication may have on your health at different dosages.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Cleveland Clinic. Pain control after surgery. Updated October 2, 2017.