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Managing chronic pain

Discuss options and risks with your doctor

Chronic pain, or pain that lasts longer than six months, is different than acute pain like the pain that comes from an injury. In chronic pain, there are changes in the way the brain “listens” to signals from the body. The goal in treating chronic pain is to help the brain interpret those signals in a different way so that the pain is less severe and does not impact a person’s quality of life. 

New evidence shows opioid pain medications may not be the best answer for chronic pain and that the risks of harmful side effects or addiction must be taken into consideration before prescribing or taking opioid pain medications.  

In some cases of moderate to severe acute pain, such as after surgery, or in the treatment of cancer pain, prescription opioids are important treatment options. However, it is important to remember the serious risks, especially if you have other medical conditions or are taking medications that can interfere with opioids. 

The most important action you can take is to talk to your health care provider about ways to manage your pain that don’t involve prescription opioids—or keep your dose as low as possible. Some of these options may actually work better and have fewer risks and side effects.

Options may include: 

• Pain relievers such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen and naproxen. 

• Some medications that are also used for depression or seizures. 

• Physical therapy and exercise.

• Cognitive behavioral therapy—a psychological approach, in which patients learn how to modify physical, behavioral and emotional triggers of pain and stress. 

However, if you are prescribed opioids and your doctor believes it is the best regimen for your pain, keep in mind some important tips:

• Never take opioids in greater amounts or more often than prescribed. 

• Talk about ways to help manage ongoing/chronic pain without prescription opioids. 

• Talk about any concerns and side effects like sleepiness or constipation. 

• Help prevent misuse and abuse by never selling or sharing prescription opioids. 

• Never use another person’s prescription opioids. 

• Store prescription opioids in a secure place and out of reach of others.

Dr. Kristy Deep is associate professor of internal medicine in the UK College of Medicine and co-chair of the UK Healthcare Opioid Stewardship Committee.

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