When we experience pain, the first thing we want to do is find relief – but that’s not always easy to do. Relieving pain depends on several different factors, such as why we’re experiencing pain in the first place, as well as the severity of said pain. If you were to rate your scale of pain at a 3 out of 10, it will likely be easier to find relief. For example, if you’re experiencing mild joint pain, you can often relieve that pain by getting more exercise, doing some stretching, and even making some changes to your diet (such as increasing your fibre intake, which has been linked to a decrease in osteoarthritis pain.) Whereas if you were to rate your pain level at 5 or greater (with 10 out of 10 being the worst), you might have more difficulty alleviating your pain through natural, at-home remedies.

That’s where medication comes in…

Depending on the type of pain you experience and where it’s located on/in your body will usually determine the type of medication you need to be prescribed. In some instances, pain relievers will need to be taken on a long-term basis – though they are typically safer and better-tolerated if taken short-term. Certain pain relief medications can also be habit-forming as well as come with many side effects, which is why long-term use is also not usually recommended. Among the most common pain relievers that physicians will recommend their patients try for pain relief include acetaminophen (an analgesic) or NSAIDs (nonsteroidal ant-inflammatory drugs.) These are classes of medications that are sold under various brand names and used to help manage mild to moderate pain, as well as reduce fever.

Acetaminophen is usually recommended for people who suffer from mild headaches, menstrual pain, backaches, minor muscular aches, or general aches and pains caused by the common cold and flu. When taking acetaminophen, you should not exceed 3,000 mg/day unless you have been directed by your physician to do so. Compared to NSAIDs, there are generally fewer side effects with acetaminophen, but they can still occur, and may include things such as angioedema (skin swelling), dizziness, disorientation, or more serious side effects such as severe allergic reaction, toxic epidermal necrolysis, and liver problems. If these or any other abnormal side effects occur and you think they may be a result of taking acetaminophen, you should let your doctor know right away.

NSAIDs – known as Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs – can also be taken for the same types of pain that you would take acetaminophen for. However, NSAIDs also tend to be better for reducing inflammation or symptoms associated with specific inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis and tendonitis. When it comes to NSAIDs, it’s generally recommended that you do not exceed 660 mg in a 24-hour period unless otherwise specified by your physician. NSAIDs also tend to come with more side-effects in comparison to acetaminophen – particularly if you take an NSAID for an extended period of time. The most common side effects that can occur with both short and long-term used of NSAIDs include abdominal pain, heartburn, stomach ulcers, and an increased risk of bleeding, in addition to high blood pressure, liver or kidney problems; and, just like any other medication, it’s also possible to develop an allergic reaction to NSAIDs.

If you do not find relief from these over-the-counter pain relievers, your physician made decide to write you a prescription for something stronger – such as an opioid. However, these, too, come with many dangers, such as dependency as well as a long list of potential side effects. If you have been prescribed this type of medication, you should follow the directions exactly as your doctor has written them and never exceed your dose on your own volition.

For some people, pain can also have a significantly negative effect on the mood, and in some cases pain relief medication may not always be enough. Patients who experience chronic pain (classified as pain that continues for over 12 week) may find it beneficial to try other therapies in addition to their treatment regimen, such as counselling, or by joining a support group with other individuals. For information on pain support and wellness groups in British Columbia, you can visit PainBC.ca.