I often get asked by patients if they should be taking pain killers or not. Sometimes the answer is straight forward and sometimes it can be a bit more complicated. The simplified answer is, if pain is preventing you from performing your daily activities and making it difficult for you to do your rehab then you might want to consider having some form of pain relief. Even off the shelf medication such as paracetamol can be useful as long as you stick to the prescribed amount. If the pain and discomfort isn’t too bothersome and it doesn’t restrict you in any way, then you might want to avoid taking pain killers.
As you can probably imagine, we see some people who are very keen to take pain killers and some who want to avoid them as much as possible. However, sometime these views are due to a bit of a misunderstanding about pain killers. Here are a few examples of things that patients have said to me over the years and my thoughts about the subject.
If I take pain killers, I might be causing myself more damage without knowing it.
This is a very common concern. Firstly, different pain killers can affect you in different ways and may be more or less effective at reducing your pain. This is why it is always a good idea to consult a qualified medical professionally for advice if you have any questions or concerns about taking pain killers. The vast majority of them will reduce your pain, not prevent you from being able to feel pain. When patients raise this concern I often say “If you take these pain killers and then you accidently drop a brick on your foot, you’re sure as hell gonna be aware that you’ve dropped a brick on your foot”. A big part of the rehab process focuses on a graded return to activity and exercise. The physio’s job is to give you clear guidance on how hard you can push forward with it and when you may need to rein it in. More often than not, if the pain killers are doing their job they will make the whole rehab process much smoother. You can still get flare ups while taking pain killers and the pain will probably still increase if you throw caution to the wind going hell for leather with your exercises. But having adequate pain relief will make these flare ups more tolerable. However, as I mentioned earlier, not everyone will need pain relief to help with their recovery.
I didn’t take my pain killers before my physio appointment so you can see what’s REALLY going on.
This has caused some issues in the past. The process of an initial physiotherapy appointment consists of a discussion to fine out all about the problem and then a physical assessment. These two aspects help us to formulate a working diagnosis and to make a treatment plan. If a patient had been taking pain killers routinely and then decides to stop taking them just before their physio appointment, it can make the physical assessment a lot more uncomfortable. In some cases, it can limit the amount of things that we can assess and it can affect the accuracy of our tests. It can make it much more difficult for the physio to accurately diagnose the issue if everything is much more sensitive than usual. This doesn’t mean that you should always take pain killers before seeing a physio, but it would be wise to stick to what you have been doing previously.
I just don’t like taking pain killers.
As I mentioned before, you don’t always have to take pain killer. Pain is very individualized and one persons experience of pain can be completely different when compared to someone else’s. At the end of the day the decision to take pain killers or not is down to the person experiencing pain. However, some people that I have treated before have a stoic belief that they need to “be strong” and push through the pain. At this point I often remind them that you don’t get any Brownie points for not needing pain relief and that pain killers exist for the sole purpose of making these situations easier to deal with. Additionally, if pain is poorly controlled it can make it harder to comply with even the best rehab programme. Its good to remember that while most people don’t like taking pain killers, most people aren’t too fond of pain either.
If you are looking for any more specific information about pain relief you may want to contact your GP or local pharmacist. If you are suffering with any joint related pains, please contact us to see if we can help you on the road to recovery.
If you would like more information about our services, please call the clinic on 01276 37670. If you would like to book a session then this can also be done online by clicking the image below
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Thanks for reading!
Dom Walcott (BSc MCSP SRP)
Clinical Lead at Thorpes Physiotherapy