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What You Can Do To Help Maximize Treatment For Pain


To maximize pain treatment, it is advisable to take the following steps

Within the health care system:

  • Educate yourself about pain and pain relief techniques by reading the other sections of this article that apply to you.
  • Set an appointment with your doctor or other health care provider to discuss pain.
  • Start keeping a pain diary. (See below.) 
  • Think about what your priorities are. You can do this now, or wait until you have a better fix from your doctor on what medications or other treatments are being proposed. For instance, is it important that you have a clear head for work? That you be able to drive? That you have sex?
  • Prepare for each appointment. Write a detailed description of your pain and a list of questions.
  • At the appointment:
    • Speak up about your pain. Do not assume that it is normal to have sudden outbreaks of sharp pain.
    • Discuss alternatives for treating your pain, including medication and non-medication alternatives. With respect to medications, also discuss using different strength medications for different pain levels and social or work situations. Discuss what to do if you sense pain coming on, or intensifying.
    • Understand the pros and cons of each alternative, including how long it should take to work, whether you will be okay to drive or do other activites while on the drug, and whether you can drink alcohol. Some people have found that taking pain medication orally with a hot liquid helps the medication start working faster.
    • Schedule a second appointment if necessary.
  • Stick to the treatment as prescribed unless there is a good reason not to.
    • If you are only supposed to take a pain medication when you have pain, take the medicine as soon as the pain starts. It will help you avoid unnecessary suffering. 
    • If you find that the pain medication wears off too soon or is no longer working effectively, consult your doctor.  
    • For tips about treatment for pain, see below.
  • If the treatment as prescribed could interfere with your work or personal life, try different alternatives under your doctor's supervision. For example, if you need to be clear-headed for a particular meeting, talk with your doctor about taking the medication earlier than usual or taking a smaller dose or even taking an alternative, less powerful, medication.
  • If a side effect becomes a problem for you, speak with your doctor about it and the possibility of cutting back on the medication. (For information about dealing with side effects, click here. For information about side effects due to chemotherapy, click here.)
  • If you don't get the relief you need from your pain, look for a pain specialist. For information about how, click here.

Take care of your mental health.

Consider joining a support group of other people who are experiencing pain or speaking to a mental health therapist. Chronic pain can lead to feelings of depression, anxiety and isolation. It can be helpful to speak with others who are experiencing the same feelings. Support groups can also be a good place to learn about treatments and other coping skills.

Keep a pain diary.

Pain experts recommend that you keep a written record about your pain and its treatment. The information can be very useful to your doctor in recommending, or adjusting your treatment. In addition, you may see patterns that can assist you in living a more productive and pain free life.

You can keep a separate pain diary, or you can include the following information in your Symptoms Diary.

  • Keep track of the level of pain as a number from 0 to 10.
  • In the comments section, keep track of the information noted below.

Take the diary with you to your appointments. If you use our symptom diary: Before your appointment, you can print the diary. The graph will provide a quick-to-read overview of what you experienced since your last appointment. The comments sections will fill in the details.

In the comments section, you can keep track of whatever is important to your situation such as:

  • Changes in the pain medicines that you take or their dosages.
  • The time that you take the medicine.
  • How well and how long the medicine worked to relieve your pain.
  • When your pain starts. Did you wake up in pain? Does it begin later in the day?
  • The type of pain sensation that you feel (sharp, dull, throbbing, aching, steady, burning, shooting, pins and needles -- or whatever word best describes your pain.)
  • What seems to make the pain better or worse?
  • Any side effects that you may experience from the pain or medication. What seems to help or not help with the side effects?
  • If you stop taking any of your medications due to side effects or any other reason.
  • If the pain makes sleeping difficult.
  • Did you skip any meals due to the pain?
  • Any non-medicine treatments that you use, such as rest, or relaxation techniques. How effective were they?
  • Any additional personal thoughts or experiences.
  • Any daily work and home activities that are affected by your pain. Be specific. Ask your doctor to include this information in your medical record. It could be useful should you need an accommodation at work or if you apply for disability.

Tips for taking pain medication on schedule.  

  • Always take your medication as prescribed by your doctor or other health care provider. Do not make any changes without consulting your doctor first.
  • Take your medicine on a regular schedule. 
    • Do not skip a dose of medicine, or wait for your pain to get worse before taking your medicine. The goal is to prevent pain. Once you feel the pain it is much harder to control.
    • Set an alarm or do whatever else you need to in order to remember when it is time to take your medicine.
  • Keep a few pain pills in a variety of locations so medication is available when needed. For instance, in your purse, dop kit, or gym locker.
  • Time dosage to pain. 
    • Some recent studies indicate that many or most people with chronic pain, experience that pain on similar schedules. The level of pain tends to be more tolerable during the day, and then begins to peak between 3p.m. and 10 p.m. However, many doctors do not consider this pain cycle when prescribing medications, and recommend the standard 2 or 3 times a day equal dose of pain medication. This may result in a drowsy medication hangover in the morning, and inadequate pain prevention the rest of the day. If this sounds like you, speak with your doctor. 
    • The most effective approach for many people may be one large dose of long-acting pain medication before lunch and a small dose at bedtime.  If this is of interest, speak with your doctor.
  • Inform your doctor at once (do not wait for your next regularly scheduled visit) if your pain is not adequately controlled, or you experience severe side effects such as extreme drowsiness or difficulty breathing. Your doctor can tell you how to adjust your dosage or whether to come in for a visit.
  • Keep track of your pain symptoms in a pain diary. See below.
  • Always make certain that you have at least a three day supply of your medication on hand. 
    • Do not wait until you are out of your medication to call your doctor for a new prescription. 
    • Many pain prescriptions can only be filled by delivering a copy of the prescription to the pharmacy. They cannot be called in. 
  • If you are going to travel:
    • Take a sufficient supply of medication to last until your return plus a few extra days "just in case." 
    • It is helpful to take a copy of your prescription with you in case any questions are asked.
  • The pharmacy:
    • Call the pharmacy before trying to fill your prescription. Some drug stores may not carry all pain medications.
    • If possible, try to use the same pharmacy for all your prescription needs. This can help prevent drug interactions.  It will also confirm to the pharmacy that your need for the prescription is likely to be legitimate so the pharmacist will help you if you have a problem (such as if you need an emergency supply). 
  • Know your body and its limits. 
    • Avoid or minimize activities that result in pain.
    • When you are rested and alert you may want to try a treatment that requires concentration and energy, such as meditation or imagery. 
    • When you are tired or fatigued you may want to try hot or cold packs. 
  • For additional tips about taking drugs on schedule, click here.

Check your health insurance policy so you will know what steps, if any, you have to take if you have an adverse reaction to pain medications and believe you need emergency care.


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