Along with self-management strategies such as exercise, distraction, healthy eating, managing stress, weight management, and getting a good night’s sleep, medication can help you keep your pain to a level where you can continue to do the things you want, and need, to do.
There are different types of medication that you and your doctor may use to help you at different times and in different ways. They should be tailored to your pain condition and other health concerns.
Medications that may help with mild to moderate pain include mild analgesic paracetamol, and anti-inflammatories ibuprofen and aspirin. These medications may be combined together – e.g. paracetamol and ibuprofen. They may also be combined with a low dose of codeine (a weak opioid) such as paracetamol and codeine.
All medications have potential side effects (or unwanted effects) and risks. The fact that you can buy these products over-the-counter doesn’t mean they’re without risk or completely safe. Talk with your pharmacist for more information.
*Note: from February 1 2018, you can no longer buy medications containing codeine over-the-counter. You will need to get a prescription from your doctor.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) – there are some over-the-counter NSAIDs available in low dose, however, others need to be prescribed by your doctor. NSAIDs work to help provide temporary pain relief, specifically pain associated with inflammation, and to reduce fever.
Opioids – are used to treat severe pain associated with cancer or acute pain (e.g. following surgery). They may be helpful for some people with severe persistent non-cancer pain, however, their long term benefit is controversial. Opioids can have serious side effects (including constipation, breathing difficulties). They will also produce physical dependence over time and have the potential to produce addiction (although usually in those at risk). Long-term use of strong opioids are used cautiously; before prescribing an opioid you and your doctor will discuss the risks and benefits for you.
Anti-neuropathic pain medications – medications that act on the nervous system associated with pain may be used where nerve injury or dysfunction produces pain (neuropathic pain) or when the pain system is sensitised (in part due to severity or duration of pain). These include the older type anti-depressants, anti-epilepsy medications, and some blood pressure medications. These medications typically have significant side effects (e.g. reduced concentration, sleepiness, weight gain), however, sometimes they may be prescribed for these effects (e.g. to improve sleep).
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Some of my medications need to be taken with food, but I often don’t feel like eating – which isn’t ideal. I’ve found that plain crackers and plenty of water works for me. So I make sure there’s always a box in the pantry. – Paul