Medicines that relieve pain are called analgesics. They do not affect the cause of the pain, but they can reduce pain effectively. The medicine that is best for you depends on the type of pain you have and how severe it is.
There are different types and strengths of pain medicines suitable for different types of pain.
Taking your medicines as prescribed is the best way to control the pain. Some people call this ‘staying on top of the pain’. Doing this may mean you can use lower doses of pain relief than if you were to wait until the pain gets worse.
If you think your pain medicine isn’t working, it’s important to let your doctor know as they may need to adjust the dose or prescribe a different medicine.
Pain medicines may take different amounts of time to work. This will depend on whether the active ingredient is released slowly or immediately.
Slow release medicines release the active ingredient continuously to provide pain control for 12–24 hours. They are designed for chronic pain and need to be taken as prescribed. This helps keep the amount of medicine in the blood high enough to be constant and effective.
Immediate release medicines release the active ingredient quickly, usually in less than 30 minutes. They are designed for occasional, temporary pain because they work fast but don’t last.
How quickly different medicines relieve pain also varies greatly from person to person. It depends on how much medicine you take (the dose) and how often you take it (the frequency).
Pain relief comes in many forms, so you may be taking substances that you didn’t realise were a medicine. Complementary therapies can also help to relieve pain.
These are medicines that your doctor must authorise you to take and only a pharmacist can give you (dispense). Most prescription medicines have two names:
These are available without a prescription, often from pharmacies and supermarkets, and include over-the-counter medicines such as pain-killers and cold medicines. Vitamin supplements and herbal remedies are also considered non-prescription medicines.
These are therapies that can be used with conventional medical treatments to improve your quality of life and wellbeing. Complementary therapies include relaxation, talking therapies, meditation, visualisation, acupuncture, aromatherapy, reflexology, music therapy, art therapy and massage. For more information, see other ways to control pain or read Cancer Council’s booklet Understanding Complementary Therapies.
To manage your pain effectively, you may be given a combination of prescription and non-prescription medicines. You may also want to try complementary therapies to improve your quality of life.
The National Prescribing Service (known as NPS MedicineWise) provides a medicines list to help you record information about what you need to take, when to take it, how much to take and why. The list is available in different formats from nps.org.au.
Family members and friends sometimes have opinions about the pain relief you’re having. Your family members may feel anxious about you taking strong pain medicines. This may be because they are worried that you will become addicted.
Let your family know how the experience of pain affects you emotionally, and that keeping the pain under control allows you to remain comfortable and enjoy your time with them. You may want to ask your treatment team if they can explain to your family and carer why a particular medicine has been recommended for you.
Pain medicines are taken in several ways, depending on the type of medicine and the form that it is available in.
|tablet or capsule||This is the most common form of pain medicine.
||This may be an option if you have trouble swallowing
tablets or for convenience.
||This is sucked on the inside of your cheeks and gums
until it dissolves.
||A needle is inserted either into a vein (intravenously),
into a muscle (intramuscularly) or under the skin
||This is stuck on your skin and gradually releases
medicine into the body. The patch only needs to
be changed every few days.
||Medicine is slowly injected under the skin using a
small plastic tube and a small portable pump called
a syringe driver. This can take many hours or days.
||Medicine is slowly injected into a vein using a small
plastic tube and pump over many hours or days.
The pump has a button that you press to release a
set dose of medicine. This is called patient-controlled
analgesia (PCA). It is used in hospitals under the
supervision of a pain specialist.
|intrathecal injection or infusion||Liquid medicine that is delivered into the fluid
surrounding the spinal cord. It is commonly used
to treat the most severe cancer pain.
||A pellet is placed in the rectum, which dissolves and
is absorbed by the body. This may be suitable for
someone who has nausea or trouble swallowing.
Let your doctor, nurse or pharmacist know if you’re taking any other medicines at the same time as your pain relief. This includes all prescription and non-prescription medicines, vitamins, herbs and other supplements. Different medicines may react with each other, stop a medicine from working properly in the body, or cause dangerous side effects. Some effects to keep in mind include:
It’s possible to take prescription medicines overseas for your own personal use, but it’s best to follow a few guidelines.
Reviewed by: Dr Melanie Lovell, Clinical Ass Prof, Medicine, Northern Clinical School, Sydney Medical School, University of Sydney, and Palliative Medicine Consultant Physician, Greenwich Hospital, NSW; Nathaniel Alexander, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council NSW, NSW; Anne Booms, Palliative Care Nurse Practitioner, Canberra Hospital, ACT; Dr Roger Goucke, Consultant, Department of Pain Management, Specialist Pain Medicine Physician, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, and Clinical Ass Prof, School of Medicine and Pharmacology, University of Western Australia, WA; John Marane, Consumer; and Dr Jane Trinca, Director, Barbara Walker Centre for Pain Management, St Vincent’s Hospital, VIC.