Medication

Many types of medication are used to treat chronic pain. Some drugs are long-acting to treat pain that is continuous; others are short-acting to treat pain that comes and goes. Some medications come in pill form, some as injections.

These are common pain-relieving medications, according to the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA), a group of doctors who specialize in relieving pain:

  • Acetaminophen. This is a non-aspirin pain reliever most commonly sold as Tylenol. It can relieve minor pain, but does not reduce swelling. Acetaminophen is often used in combination with other prescribed and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs. Be sure to read the labels on all OTC drugs you take to make sure you are not getting too much acetaminophen.
  • Aspirin. This drug, taken alone or as an ingredient with other drugs, can reduce swelling and inflammation and relieve pain.
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). These medications, such as ibuprofen and naproxen, relieve pain and reduce inflammation and fever.
  • Steroidal drugs. Cortisol and prednisone are two examples of these medications. These are for more serious inflammatory conditions, such as chronic arthritis.
  • Opioid pain medication. This is used to treat acute cancer pain; occasionally these are prescribed for chronic pain not caused by cancer.
  • Antidepressants. These drugs can relieve some kinds of pain and can help with sleep problems.
  • Anti-seizure medications. These are prescribed for pain caused by damaged nerves.
  • Local anesthetics. These drugs, with or without cortisone, are injected around nerve roots -- a group of nerves -- or into muscles or joints to decrease swelling, irritation, muscle spasms and abnormal nerve activity.

You and your health care provider need to choose medications carefully, based on the cause of your pain and how severe it is, as well as your risk for gastrointestinal or cardiovascular problems and addiction.

If you are taking prescribed pain medication, do NOT take OTC pain relievers, herbal medicines or dietary supplements unless you check with your health care provider first. Many of these can interact with prescribed medications and cause serious problems.