The latest in pain management

June 10, 2021

Almost every home in Australia has a cupboard or drawer containing medicines that offer pain relief. You may reach for the paracetamol or ibuprofen for aches, pains, and strains without so much as a second thought.

And for most acute (short-lasting) pain, a dose or two of a simple analgesic is appropriate.

But when pain persists – what then? When should you see your doctor? How will they approach your pain management? Will they just send you away with a prescription for stronger and stronger pain relievers?

Our scientific understanding of pain — and optimal pain management — has evolved. Doctors are now more wary of the overuse of strong pain relievers like opioids. And pain researchers have found alternative ways to manage pain, particularly chronic pain.

If you’re interested in managing migraine pain, you can read this article.

What do we now know about pain?

Pain researchers tell us that there are two distinct types of pain:

  • Nociceptive pain is the pain from physical damage to your body. The damage might be caused by something like a burn, or a sports injury, or arthritis. This type of pain is a signal from your nervous system that you need to act to protect and heal your body.
  • Neuropathic pain may happen when the signals between your nerves and brain or spinal cord are misread. Your brain interprets faulty signals from the nerves as pain. It could also be because of nerve damage.

Pain can also be divided into two categories, depending on how long you’ve had pain.

  • Acute pain usually happens suddenly and is short-lived. The term “acute” doesn’t mean severe pain, but pain that doesn’t last a long time. Most often, acute pain happens in response to an obvious injury.
  • Chronic pain is where pain lasts longer than 3 months, or longer than typically expected for recovery from injury. It is also called persistent pain. 

When to see a doctor for pain

It’s tempting to self-manage your pain, given that we have such easy access to pain relief. But it’s best to get to the bottom of your pain condition, especially if it:

  • Hasn’t gone away after a few weeks
  • Is impacting your mental health
  • Prevents you from relaxing or sleeping
  • Stops you from exercising or participating in your normal activities
  • Hasn’t improved with any of the treatments you’ve tried

Make an appointment with a doctor to discuss your pain. Living with chronic pain can be challenging. InstantScripts® GPs can help navigate your pain management options and help discover if there’s a reason for your ongoing pain.

To speak with an InstantScripts GP:

Request Consultation

To request a script:

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What your doctor may want to know about your pain

Initially, your doctor will try to determine what is causing your pain. Your pain could be caused by infection or tissue damage. Your doctor may also want to find out if the pain is caused by a more serious illness, such as cancer.

There may not be an obvious underlying cause. Or you may already know the underlying cause and be receiving treatment.

In either case, your doctor will want to find out how much your pain is limiting you in your daily life. They may ask questions about your:

  • Ability to take part in work, study or family life
  • Ability to exercise or complete daily activities
  • Mental health
  • Current pain management techniques and medicines

This will help you and your doctor work out what pain management strategy will best suit you. Chronic pain management usually involves both drug and non-drug strategies to give you the best outcome.

Pain management options

Pain researchers now know that people with chronic pain need a treatment “toolbox”. This can be made up of a variety of practices proven to help with pain management. These include:

  • Exercise
  • Education
  • Peer support
  • Nutrition
  • Meditation
  • Medication

Pain relief over the counter

Paracetamol and some nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are available to buy without a doctor’s prescription. These are often called simple analgesics and can help with many types of pain.

Speak to your doctor or pharmacist about the best options before buying any over-the-counter medicines. This is particularly important if you have any other medical conditions, such as stomach, kidney, liver or heart problems.

You should also speak with your doctor if you take these medicines regularly. There may be better options that will help you improve your pain management.

Prescription pain management

Stronger pain relief is available with a prescription. There are several types of medicines that can help relieve pain.

  • Antidepressants are medicines normally used to treat depression. They can also reduce pain.
  • Anticonvulsants (antiepileptic) medicines can also control nerve pain. They include pregabalin and gabapentin.
  • Opioids are strong pain-relief medicines (like morphine, fentanyl, oxycodone or codeine). They might be prescribed for short periods but are not very effective in chronic pain that’s not caused by cancer.

Opioids are often used to relieve severe acute pain or cancer pain. But there’s little evidence supporting use for chronic pain that is not caused by cancer, particularly in the long term.

What’s more, research shows that the longer you take opioids the greater the risk of experiencing negative consequences.

If you and your GP decide a trial of opioids is appropriate, you need to know that treatment will need to be stopped at some stage. Opioids should not be used over the long term.

Questions to ask your doctor about your pain management

Should I take this medicine at regular intervals or only when I feel pain?

  • How long will it take to work?
  • Is it safe to use in the long term?
  • How will this medicine benefit me?
  • Will this medicine make me feel drowsy?
  • What side effects should I expect or watch out for?
  • What can I do to minimise any side effects?
  • How will this medicine interact with my other medicines?
  • Could I become addicted to this medicine?
  • What should I do if the pain does not go away?

At InstantScripts, we offer telehealth consultations with our Australian RACGP-qualified doctors. If you can’t get to your doctor to discuss your pain management, we’re always here to help. 

To speak with an InstantScripts GP:

Request Consultation

To request a script:

Find Your Medication
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