Acute and chronic pain affects roughly 100 million Americans with an annual cost in terms of medical treatment, rehabilitation and lost productivity estimated at more than $560 billion per year.

In an effort to mitigate existing chronic pain or post-surgical pain, many individuals receive treatment from a pain management specialist. One of the ways physicians will help their patients is through the use of pain relief medicine.

“One of the questions I get asked quite frequently by my patients is, ‘Should I take my medication only when I have pain?’” says Daniel M. Frohwein, M.D., a board certified anesthesiologist and pain management physician at Orlando Orthopaedic Center. “It’s a very complex answer and it depends on multiple factors. We use many different varieties of types of medications to control pain and alleviate symptoms of painful disorders.”

What Are the Two Types of Pain Medication?

Certain prescribed pain medicines come with specific instructions for daily use such as “take one tablet every 6 hours“. Other pain medications prescribed by doctors known by the Latin term “pro re nata” (PRN) are intended to be used only when certain conditions or painful situations arise, such as irregular chest or abdominal pain, or inflammation in the body.

“Generally speaking, medicines that are designed to be used PRN, are medicines that should only be taken as needed, and should only be taken when you have pain,” says Dr. Frohwein.

Other pain medications are only effective if taken as prescribed. Failure to do so could result in the medication losing the ability to do its job.

frohwein patient pain management“Other medicines or medications need to have a stable blood level in the body to observe their effects over time,” explains Dr. Frohwein. “Those medications should be taken on a scheduled basis according to your doctor’s instructions.”

For patients, it’s crucial to be aware of the differences between daily pain medication and medicine that is meant to be taken “as needed”, in terms of how much to take, when to take it, and which unique symptoms each medication is designed to treat.

If a patient undergoes surgery for chronic lower back pain, the physician may prescribe PRN, or as needed pain medicine, in addition to the patient’s other existing prescription pain medicines. Understanding and precisely following how to take each medication is vital in order for the medications to produce the best results.

Continued communication with one’s pain management physician is an important component in managing pain. One’s physician can provide invaluable advice and support in administering one’s pain medicine regimen in a healthy and optimal fashion.