How well do pain medications work?

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​​Medications not only help reduce pain but also help you sleep, reduce your anxiety and manage any mood changes.

However, there’s no easy way to know how effective a pain medication will be for any particular person at any particular time. A good rule of thumb is that the longer the pain persists, the less likely it is that medication by itself will provide effective pain relief.

The best way to reduce pain and improve function is through the 3P approach – that is, physical, psychological and pharmacological therapies. So medications – or pharmacological therapies – are only one pa​rt of managing chronic pain.

Pharmacological part of 3P approach

Common limitations with medications

In most cases, there is no “magic bullet” or pill to take away all pain. As a result, many young people find pain medications very disappointing. This is an unfortunate reality. In fact, many young people choose not to use medication for pain at all because they find that it does not work particularly well.

Some medications can also cause many negative side effects. Often, patients and doctors decide to stop a pain medication because it is making the person too sleepy, forgetful or constipated, is giving them a dry mouth or is causing them to gain weight. Longer-term risks and side effects include addiction, sexual problems and bone disease. The amount of relief that a medication can provide depends on the dose, but the higher the dose, the higher the risk of negative side effects.

Many medications for pain seem to work well at first but lose their effect over time. In fact, physical and psychological strategies often work as well as, or better than, pain medications alone. If a medication works well for you, use the opportunity to become more active and develop other pain management strategies so that you don’t need to rely on the medication.

​​​​​​​​Sources

Hospital for Sick Children Chronic Pain Clinic. What we do. SickKids.ca [Accessed August 25, 2018]​​​

Last updated: May 2nd 2016