Painkillers are one of the options for helping with pain. They can be useful in helping to reduce pain, but they are not usually the complete answer for longstanding problems.

Most people are familiar with taking painkillers for short term pain like a headache or after an injury or operation. As you will learn on this site, persistent pain is different and just relying on painkillers does not work. Some people find the benefits of painkillers are outweighed by the side effects in the longer term.

Painkillers support you to keep moving

Staying as fit as possible, and moving as normally and as much as possible is very important in living with persistent pain. Painkillers can be seen as ‘helpers’ to reduce pain levels, allowing people to move and helping bodies stay strong.

Doctors often prescribe either general painkillers or more specific painkillers for certain types of problems, such as pain coming from an irritated nerve (neuropathic pain). Painkillers are available in different strengths, Paracetamol and Codeine based medication may help give some relief. Very rarely, your GP may prescribe morphine type medication. However, these medications only help 1 in 10 patients, and are often reserved for cancer pain.

How should painkillers be taken?

Doctors normally advise patients to take painkillers on a regular basis and usually recommend ‘slow release’ preparations. These allow a steady level of painkiller in the system and help to avoid the ‘ups and downs’ of taking painkillers that wear off quickly.

This is often more settling for the pain system and may result in fewer side effects. In addition, it prevents the patient from focusing too much on their pain during the course of the day, when pain levels will naturally rise and fall according to activity levels.

Your GP or pharmacist will advise you on the best type of medication for your condition and when and how to take it – but will not suggest taking a painkiller every time there is a spike of pain.

The problem of side effects

Some medicines will make people tired or sleepy. Others can make patients constipated or feel sick. As a result, some people feel they are better off without painkillers, compared with a slight reduction in their pain but putting up with negative side effects.

Great care should be taken when it comes to strong Morphine-type medication. There is very little evidence of long-term benefit or usefulness. There is, however, lots of evidence of long-term side effects and problems with these medicines.

Your pain doctor, GP or pharmacist will work together to decide which medication is appropriate, which to trial and how it should be monitored for benefits or problems. You can access NHS pharmacy advice here.