Suffering in pain from a chronic condition or an injury can cause emotional distress, anxiety and make everyday life difficult. Pain relief treatments can help you continue with your daily routine despite the pain, helping you to get back to normal, reduce stress and enable you to relax. This relaxation in itself can then help to promote healing. We have a range of pain relief treatment.
What is pain relief?
There are many types of pain relief medication which can be used to treat a number of different ailments. Most people choose to try over the counter medications first, and often these will be suggested by your doctor as a first step. If the pain persists, worsens or is chronic, your doctor will be able to prescribe one of a few kinds of prescription medication.
Types of pain medication
Common, over the counter painkillers generally fall into the category of either acetaminophen (like paracetamol) or NSAIDs, which are anti-inflammatory drugs (like ibuprofen).
Prescription painkillers include opioids/narcotics (like codeine), corticosteroids (like prednisone) and antidepressants (like sertraline). Generally, prescription medications are used to treat more severe or chronic pain. They are stronger than over the counter drugs, and so naturally come with a few more things to consider.
What can they be used for?
Both kinds of over the counter painkillers can be used to treat minor aches and pains, such as sore muscles or headaches, and can also bring down fevers. However, only the anti-inflammatory NSAIDs can reduce swelling and tackle inflammation.
As mentioned above, prescription painkillers can treat severe, chronic pain, and have to be recommended by a doctor. They will advise which prescription painkiller they believe would be appropriate based on your symptoms.
Opioids are often used for severe, short term pain, as they are extremely effective, but the body can build up a tolerance to them in the long run, potentially leading to addiction. They work by attaching themselves to receptors in the brain, limiting the production and spread of pain signals. As such, they decrease the experience of pain in the patient’s body.
Corticosteroids are possibly the strongest of the prescription medications, and are used to treat severe inflammation. They are able to reduce swelling, irritation, itching and redness, and in some cases are used in the treatment of asthma, arthritis or allergies too. Inflammation is a reaction of the immune system, and in some cases the reaction is misplaced and the immune system attacks the body’s own tissue instead of a foreign body. In these cases, corticosteroids can reduce the production of the chemicals causing the inflammation, so minimising the damage on the body.
Though not their main function, antidepressants are also effective against pain. They work by increasing the body’s signals for well-being, and as such can reduce the feeling of pain. Most commonly, a low dose is used to treat chronic pain, and has been found to be particularly effective against nerve or neuropathic pain, as well as chronic headaches and menstrual discomfort.
Who can take pain relief?
Paracetamol can be taken by most people, including pregnant or breastfeeding women. However, you should check with your doctor before taking if you have liver or kidney problems, take medicine for TB or for epilepsy, or if you regularly drink more than 14 units of alcohol per week. Children are able to take paracetamol too, but generally it comes in a weaker, syrup formula instead of a tablet.
Ibuprofen and other over the counter NSAIDs can also be taken by most people. However, it is not recommended for women who are trying to get pregnant, women in their third trimester of pregnancy, anyone with heart, kidney or liver failure or anyone who is already taking another NSAID medicine. If you are elderly, have a history of stomach problems (such as Crohn’s disease) or are already taking antidepressants, you should speak to your doctor before taking ibuprofen.
Doctor assessment will be required before receiving a prescription for opioids, corticosteroids or anti depressants, so it’s important to share any medical details during these conversations. It’s generally recommended that pregnant and breastfeeding women avoid all of these medications, along with children under 18 years old.
How to take pain relief
The usual, adult dose for paracetamol is one or two 500mg tablets, taken every 4-6 hours. You should never take more than 8 tablets within a 24 hour period, as overdosing on paracetamol is possible and dangerous. You can find out more about the dosage for children here.
If taking the paracetamol, make sure you don’t take anything else that also contains paracetamol. You can, however, take anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen alongside it, if you are over 16. It’s safe to take both medications at the same time, or you can take one and wait a while to see if it works, if you like.
When it comes to ibuprofen, it’s best to take it after a meal or glass of milk to minimise the chance of upsetting your stomach. An adult can take one-two 200mg tablets every 4-6 hours, and should never take more than 6 tablets over the course of a 24 hour period. You should never take ibuprofen long term, and should consult your doctor if the pain persists for longer than a week. You can also buy ibuprofen gels or lotions which can be rubbed onto the skin in any painful areas.
You should always follow your doctor’s instructions for the dosage and ways to take prescription medication, as both can vary according to the severity of your condition. It’s worth noting that patients should avoid alcohol when taking opioids and antidepressants, and that it’s important to maintain a healthy diet when taking corticosteroids. Never take more medication than you have been told to.
Paracetamol is regarded as the best, initial option when it comes to pain relief, as it can be taken by most people and has the fewest side effects. In very rare cases, a patient can experience an allergic reaction to the medication.
The most common side effect of ibuprofen is an upset stomach, which can be minimised by taking the tablets after a meal. If you experience any of these problems when taking ibuprofen, you should speak to a doctor immediately.
Opioids can be addictive, and so it’s important to never take more than you are prescribed. You could also experience some nausea and tiredness when you first begin the tablets, and should refrain from driving until you’ve gauged how your body will react as you could be too drowsy to drive. In extreme cases, breathing can dramatically slow. You should contact a doctor immediately if you experience this.
Antidepressants can have unpleasant side effects, although when used to treat pain the dosage is often much lower and so it is less likely. Plus, any negative reactions usually improve over time. It’s important to fully understand the possibility of side effects, though, so you should discuss fully with your doctor. You can find out more here.
Corticosteroids, as mentioned, are the strongest of these options, and as such have a large number of interactions and cautions attached. If you are prescribed this medication, you should make sure you speak to your doctor and understand the side effects and interactions in full. You can also find more information about them here.