What's the Best Way to Take Pain Medication?

On a Regular Schedule or As Needed Basis?

Man taking a pill.
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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 doctor.

How Are Pain Medications 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 such as creams, gels, and patches. The topical medication, in any of these formulas, is applied to the skin over the affected, arthritic joint.

Should You Take Pain Medication as Needed or on a Regular Schedule?

Pain medication can be prescribed two different ways: PRN (as needed) or scheduled. Are you wondering which is more effective? Typically, when pain is mild, taking pain medication as needed may be just 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 doctor 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 doctor or doctor's nurse usually asks you to rate your pain using a pain scale.

The scale is a guide, used to show if your pain is getting worse or better. It's your responsibility to answer honestly and let your doctor or nurse know if your pain control is unsatisfactory. If it is unsatisfactory, your doctor may suggest a different dose of the same pain medication or a different pain medication to try to elicit a better response.

Is Your Pain Medication Effective?

While it is best practice 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 doctor recommends a dose that you feel is not sufficient for pain management, ask your doctor 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 and severe adverse events. Consider it forbidden.

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