Health Education Library / Medication for Pain

Pain after an operation (post-op pain) is normal and expected. These guidelines can help you stay as comfortable as possible.

Taking Pain Medications Take medications on time. Do not take more than prescribed. Take only the medications that your health care provider tells you to take. Take pain medications with some food to avoid an upset stomach. Don't drink alcohol while using pain medications.

Types of Pain Medications

Analgesics (non-opioid and NSAID)
Remove feelings of pain. Used for mild to moderate pain. May prevent joint and soft tissue inflammation. Over-the-counter (such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen) or prescription. All relieve mild to moderate pain and some reduce swelling. Possible Side Effects include nausea, stomach pain, ulcers, indigestion, diarrhea, bleeding, kidney or liver problems.

A type of analgesic. Remove feelings of pain. Used for moderate to severe pain. Always prescription. Possible side effects include stomach upset, nausea, and itching. May cause constipation (to help prevent this, eat high-fiber foods and drink plenty of water).

Stop pain signals from reaching the brain. They block all feeling in the treated area. Possible side effects include Nausea, low blood pressure, fever, slowed breathing, fainting, seizures, heart attack.

Delivering Pain Medication

Medications will help control pain. There are many ways to take pain medications. For instance, you may use pills, patches, or a special pump. As you feel better, the way you take medications may change.

Pills and Tablets
Some medications are swallowed and others are allowed to dissolve in the mouth.

Patches and Suppositories
A patch placed on the skin provides medication over a few days. Some medications 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 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
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.

Will I Become Addicted?
Addiction is a craving for certain medications. This is of concern for some patients who are prescribed opioids. Opioids are manmade pain relievers. They do not contain opium. Addiction is very uncommon if these medications are used as directed. 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. This will be done when you no longer need them.

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 itc an stay in place longer than an IV, reducing the the number of needle sticks during the course of treatment. It 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
You will change into a hospital gown and lie on an x-ray table. 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
Care for the catheter site as directed.

Potential Risks and Complications
Bleeding, 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

Chronic pain is long-lasting pain due to a condition that can't be cured or easily treated. 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 treatment for chronic pain. Below are some common myths about pain medications.

Myth: Medications will cure my pain.
Fact: Medications can help control 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.