What to Expect With Pain Management

Your back hurts. Your knee is sore. Your elbow is tender. If you're having these issues, pain management is often top of mind for most of your day.

"There's no need to live with pain for a long time," says Christopher Kaypekian, M.D., Pain Management Specialist affiliated with Dignity Health Glendale Memorial Hospital and Health Center. "There have been dramatic changes in this area of medicine." Dr. Kaypekian describes new diagnostic imaging capabilities that can pinpoint where headaches or neck and back pain originate. Treatment can then target those specific areas. He also points to technology targeting nerves, discs, and joints in the spine for better pain relief with less medication.

Nonsurgical Pain Management

For many people, the place to start is with oral medications that can help reduce inflammation and manage pain. "In nonsurgical orthopedic pain management, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are critical," says Dr. Kaypekian. These NSAIDs include ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, Aleve) or acetaminophen (Anacin, Tylenol). When used according to label instructions, they offer pain relief with few side effects.

As always, a good relationship with your doctor is key to ensuring that the medications are working as prescribed. "If used for a long time, even useful, over-the-counter medications can have side effects, specifically on your liver or kidneys," Dr. Kaypekian continues, "so it's important that your personal physician or specialist monitors your liver enzymes and kidney function."

Another option is an injection of medication directly into the joint. "NSAIDs have a broad effect throughout the body, but corticosteroids act as effective pain control for very targeted areas, such as the knee, hip, or shoulder," says Dr. Kaypekian. Corticosteroids are injected into joints or the spine to reduce inflammation and pain. Keep in mind that steroids are best for short-term use, as they have potentially serious side effects with long-term use.

If the pain does not subside completely, your doctor may eventually recommend surgery.

Managing Postsurgical Pain

Following any surgery you may feel groggy, fading in and out of consciousness, and your head could feel fuzzy. Not to worry. It's simply the surgical team working to reduce your pain immediately following surgery.

Controlling your pain after surgery is important to your recovery. It embraces a combination of many elements: rest, ice, elevating the affected body part, and various medications. The medications for postoperative pain fall into three basic groups: over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs, which we've already discussed, plus narcotics and nerve blocks.

Immediately after surgery, you'll have an intravenous (IV) drip of some narcotic medication. "Narcotics are very effective for acute pain but should be used only for a short time," Dr. Kaypekian says. As long as you follow your physician's instructions, developing narcotic dependency is extremely rare.

Nerve blocks interrupt the pain normally sent by the nerves to the brain and they are used for short-term pain relief after some procedures. "Nerve blocks can be continued in a postoperative setting, such as a nursing home or the patient's home, until pain subsides and the patient's ability to function has been restored," explains Dr. Kaypekian.

If there's anything to learn from the subject of pain management, it's that you should know there are many appropriate treatment options available, and you shouldn't avoid seeking help if you're suffering. "If you have pain for any reason, seek treatment," says Dr. Kaypekian. "Treated early, you can control acute pain and avoid a chronic health problem."

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Randy Gerber writes on health topics for print and online blogs in an effort to help people enhance their quality of life and improve the patient experience. Randy has worked on and written about national, local, and personal health care issues for 25 years. Also, he's married to an OB/GYN, which leads to lively dinner conversations.

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*This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute health care advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor or physician before making health care decisions.