What Is the Most Common Treatment for Chronic Pain?

Medically Reviewed on 11/5/2021

What is chronic pain? 

Chronic pain is long-lasting and persistent and lasts for months or years. The most common treatments for chronic pain are NSAIDs, acetaminophen, COX-2 inhibitors, antidepressants and anti-seizure medicines, and opioids.
Chronic pain is long-lasting and persistent and lasts for months or years. The most common treatments for chronic pain are NSAIDs, acetaminophen, COX-2 inhibitors, antidepressants and anti-seizure medicines, and opioids.

Chronic pain is the most costly health issue in the United States. It is expensive to manage, leads you to miss work, lessens your productivity, and can dramatically affect your peace of mind. Therefore, if you experience chronic pain, it is important that you find the best way to treat it.

The sensation of pain comes from receptor cells under your skin and within your organs. You may feel pain as a result of sickness or injury, and this happens because your receptor cells send messages through your nerve cells into your spinal cord. Once these messages have been sent to your spinal cord, they then go to your brain. 

There are two types of pain. 

  • Acute pain. This happens when you experience an inconvenience from an everyday injury. For example, accidentally getting cut by a razor blade or breaking a bone could be accompanied by acute pain. Acute pain does not last long and leaves your body when your wound or illness is healed. 
  • Chronic pain. Some pain is more long-lasting and persistent. It can last for months or years. It continues on far beyond a recovery period, and even if you are fully recovered, you might still feel pain. A chronic illness can also cause such pain. Chronic pain can affect you to the point where you can’t eat, work, sleep, be physically active, or have the same quality of life. 

How do you treat chronic pain?

The best way to look at chronic pain relief and management is in a holistic way that aims to improve the quality of your whole life. Your overall pain management plan may include:

  • Pain medication 
  • Hot and cold treatments
  • Massage therapy
  • Exercises
  • Localized electrical stimulation 
  • Injection therapy 
  • Emotional support for pain 
  • Surgery 
  • Acupuncture

A good plan will treat the underlying cause of your pain, your pain systems, and your overall quality of life. Treating how you feel emotionally is as important as treating the pain itself. You may also need support from the people in your life, like your friends and family. 

What are the best medications to treat chronic pain?

Some of the best medications to take for chronic pain medications are:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). These are over-the-counter drugs often sold under the names Ibuprofen, Advil, Motrin, or naproxen sodium. They work by inhibiting enzymes in your body to reduce pain and inflammation. They are usually safe to take. The only trouble can happen if you take more than the recommended dosage. You can experience nausea, stomach issues, bleeding, or ulcers. Massive amounts can cause issues with your kidneys, fluid retention, and high blood pressure. The risk of these issues intensifies with age. If these are a part of your pain management system, you should be in contact with your provider.
  • Acetaminophen. Typically, this is one of the first things that you are recommended to take as a treatment for mild or moderate chronic pain relief. It can be suggested for back pain or osteoarthritis. Often, people take this to supplement opioids in their treatment plan. Acetaminophen is generally safe, but always be mindful not to drink alcohol with acetaminophen; in combination, the two can cause liver damage. While it is safe, it can be less effective than other treatment options. 
  • COX-2 inhibitors. Created to reduce the side effects of other pain medications, these are often used for muscle cramps, back or neck injuries, or menstrual cramps. While the risks of these medications are lower than other medications, they still may cause stomach bleeding, kidney damage, and heightened blood pressure. In addition, older people are at a higher risk of experiencing the adverse side effects of these medications. 
  • Antidepressants and anti-seizure medicines. Medications for depression and epileptic seizures can often help with pain, fibromyalgia, and diabetes pain. Medications used in this capacity could include Cymbalta, Effexor XR, Fetzima, Gralise, Neurontin, and Lyrica. These medications may come with side effects of drowsiness, nausea, or dizziness. Be aware that antidepressants and seizure medications can occasionally cause significant changes in your mental health and mood or cause suicidal thoughts. Be sure to monitor these things with your doctor closely. 
  • Opioids. Synthetic versions of heroin and morphine. They can be used to treat intense pain caused by injuries, surgeries, or broken bones. Be aware that these pain medications cause the most medication-related deaths, and they are incredibly addictive. Some of their generic names are Norco, OxyContin, Roxicodone, and Percocet. They release endorphins in your brain to mimic the natural way your body relieves pain. They quiet the signals that your body sends you to tell you that you are in pain. Over time, their effectiveness diminishes as your body adapts to them. They are usually a last-ditch effort in pain management when no other pain medication works. 
Medically Reviewed on 11/5/2021

Cleveland Clinic: "Chronic Pain."

Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Chronic Pain."

Mayo Clinic: "Chronic pain: Medication decisions."