The Best Way to Take Pain Medication

You may be hesitant about taking pain medication due to concerns over side effects or possible addiction. However, many people find that pain medication helps to manage acute or chronic pain conditions. Whether pain medication is appropriate for you should be decided after you discuss your concerns with your healthcare provider.

Man taking a pill.

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How Pain Medications Are Administered

Pain medication may be given orally (by mouth), through the rectum, through the nose, as an injection, as an intravenous infusion, or sometimes using a PCA (patient-controlled analgesia) pump. There are also topical pain medications, which come in the form of creams, gels (such as Voltaren), and patches (such as the Flector patch). The topical medication, in any of these formulas, is applied to the skin over the affected area.

Taking Pain Medication as Needed or on a Regular Schedule

Pain medication can be prescribed in two different ways: as needed, or as scheduled. Are you wondering which is more effective? Typically, when pain is mild, taking pain medication as needed may be enough to manage the pain. When pain is chronic, frequent, constant, or severe, pain medication is usually taken on a scheduled basis. If you're dealing with a pain increase or flare, you may find that taking the same dose at the same time of day, every day, will help keep pain under control. Your healthcare provider will advise you on the best schedule for you, given your pain levels and the medication you are using.

Are You Satisfied With Your Pain Control?

At your appointment, your healthcare provider will usually ask you to rate your pain using a pain scale. The scale is a guide to show if your pain is getting worse or better. It's your responsibility to answer honestly and let your healthcare provider know if your pain control is unsatisfactory. If it is unsatisfactory, your practitioner may suggest a different dose of the same pain medication or a different pain medication to try to elicit a better response. It is equally important to discuss with your healthcare provider the goals of pain-control therapy, such as to maintain or improve physical function.

Is Your Pain Medication Effective?

While it is always best to take the lowest effective dose of a medication, it is possible to take too little—in other words, a dose that is not producing a therapeutic (effective) response. If your healthcare provider recommends a dose that you feel is not sufficient for pain management, ask your practitioner about increasing the dose or changing to a different medication or method that might be more effective. However, never take more than the prescribed amount or maximum recommended dose of pain medication. Taking more than the prescribed amount increases the risk of side effects, dependence, and severe adverse events: consider it forbidden.

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