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What's the Best Way to Take Pain Meds?

Regular Schedule or As Needed?


Updated July 31, 2013

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Are You Reluctant to Take Pain Meds?

You may be hesitant about taking pain meds due to concerns over side effects or possible addiction. However, many people find pain meds help manage acute or chronic pain conditions. Whether pain meds are appropriate for you should be decided after you discuss your concerns with your doctor.

How Are Pain Meds Administered?

Pain meds may be given orally (by mouth), through the rectum, through the nose, as an injection, as an intravenous infusion, or sometimes using a PCA (patient controlled analgesia) pump.

There are also topical pain medications such as creams, gels, and patches. The topical medication, in any of these formulas, is applied to the skin over the affected, arthritic joint.

Should You Take Pain Meds As Needed or on a Schedule?

Pain meds can be prescribed two different ways: PRN (as needed) or scheduled. Wondering which is more effective? Typically, when pain is mild, taking pain meds as needed may be just enough to manage the pain. When pain is chronic, frequent, constant, or severe, pain meds are usually taken on a scheduled basis. If you're dealing with a pain increase or flare, you may find that taking the same dose at the same time of day, every day, will help keep pain under control. Your doctor will advise you on the best schedule for you, given your pain levels and the medication you're using.

Are You Satisfied with Your Pain Control?

At your appointment, your doctor or doctor's nurse usually asks you to rate your pain on a pain scale. The scale is a guide, used to show if your pain is getting worse or better. It's your responsibility to answer honestly and let your doctor or nurse know if your pain control is unsatisfactory. If it is unsatisfactory, your doctor may suggest a different dose of the same pain med or a different pain med to try.

Are Your Pain Meds Effective?

While it is best practice to take the lowest effective dose of a medication, it's possible to take too little--a dose that is not provoking a therapeutic (effective) response. If your doctor recommends a dose that you feel is not sufficient for pain management, ask your doctor about increasing the dose or changing to a different medication or method that might be more effective. Never take more than the prescribed amount or maximum recommended dose of pain meds. Taking more increases the risk of side effects and severe adverse events.


Controlling Acute and Chronic Pain. University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. October 2001.

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