Medications for pain

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Learn about the various medications that are used to treat pain. These include acetaminophen, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), opioids, and local and topical anaesthetics.

Key points

  • There are three main types of pain medications: opioids, non-opioids, and local and topical anaesthetics.
  • The most common mistake people make when taking painkillers is not taking them soon enough.
  • Medicine should always be taken according to the directions on the bottle or the way the doctor has indicated.

JIA medications can help reduce pain and inflammation. You might be taking medications now to help control the JIA including:

These medications may also help to reduce pain. On this page, you will learn about other common pain medicines that can help control pain.

The medications and treatments you learn about in the Taking Charge: Managing JIA Online Program do not replace the use of the medications and treatments that your doctor has prescribed for you. It is important for you to learn about medications that can help to reduce your pain. Speak to your doctor about options you’ve learned in this program and decide together if this is something you should try.

Types of pain medicines

Pain medicines are also called analgesics. There are three main types of pain medicines:

  • Non-opioids, such as acetaminophen and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Opioids, such as morphine
  • Local and topical anaesthetics, such as lidocaine and EMLA

A step-wise approach is commonly used to treat pain.

Mild pain: Simple analgesics

Simple analgesics such as acetaminophen and NSAIDs such as ibuprofen can relieve mild pain. Some mild pain relievers can be taken together if needed. However, you should not take ibuprofen if your doctor has prescribed another NSAID for you.

Moderate pain: Mild opioids

For moderate pain, simple analgesics can be used with mild opioid medicines, such as tramadol.

Severe pain: Strong opioids

For more severe pain, simple analgesics may be used with stronger opioid drugs, such as morphine.

These stronger pain medications are normally used for pain after surgery. They are also used for some chronic pain conditions that do not respond to standard medical treatment. Strong opioid medications are not commonly used to treat arthritis pain.

Like most medicines, opioids have side effects. These include slowing your breathing, sleepiness, nausea, vomiting, constipation, and itchiness. It is important to discuss the benefits and side effects of any drug with your doctor.

Local and topical anaesthetics

Local anaesthetics act on a specific part of the body. Lidocaine is a local anaesthetic that is given by injection. Some local anaesthetics are applied on the skin, in which case they are called topical anaesthetics. Examples of topical anaesthetics include EMLA cream and tetracaine. These anaesthetics help to numb the surface of the skin. They can help reduce pain from needle pokes and other procedures.

Other pain medications

There are also some other medications that are used with special types of chronic nerve pain. These include tricyclic antidepressants such as amitriptyline, and anticonvulsants such as gabapentin. These medications help to calm the pain nerves.

How to take pain medicines

There is a right way and a wrong way to take medicine. The most common mistake people make when taking painkillers is not taking them soon enough. Most people wait until their pain is really bad before taking pain medicine. It is much easier to prevent pain from becoming unmanageable when you take the medicine early (when pain is mild) and regularly.

Medicine should always be taken according to the directions on the bottle or the way your doctor has told you. Too much medicine can cause serious harm. But, if you take less than the recommended dose, the medicine may not work.

Pain medications work best when used with physical and pain coping strategies.

Review the handout Five Questions to Ask About My Medicine. It will help you be better prepared to discuss your medications with your health-care team.

Last updated: January 31st 2017