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Table of Contents

IntroductionPage 01
Pain ManagementPage 02
What is Pain?Page 03
How Can Pain Affect Your LifestylePage 04
Important Notes About PainPage 05
What Should You Expect?Page 06
What Is Expected of You?Page 07
Describing Your PainPage 08
How Is Pain Relieved?Page 09
Questions To Ask Your Healthcare TeamPage 10
Questions Your Health Care Team May Ask YouPage 11
Communicating Pain ReliefPage 12
Worried About Pain? Discuss Your ConcernsPage 13
SuggestionsPage 14
ReferencesPage 15


An Informational Guide to Pain Management was developed by:

Susan Boulet, RN, MSN, OCN
Cancer Center Coordinator,
North Florida Regional Medical Center,
Gainesville, Florida

Dennis Martin, RN, BSN
Director Bone Marrow Transplant and Oncology Services,
Oklahoma University Medical Center,
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Reviewed by:

Pam Duncan, RN, BSN
Nursing Supervisor Ambulatory Surgical Unit
Oklahoma University Medical Center

Marie S. Johnson, ARNP
AVP Operations and Quality
North Florida Regional Medical Center

Lisa Madewell, RN, BSN
Clinical Manager Pediatric Oncology Inpatient Unit
Oklahoma University Medical Center

Julie T. Samples, ARNP, MSN
Assistant V.P. Nursing and Director of the Women's Center
North Florida Regional Medical Center

Please proceed to the Pain Management Guide.

View a glossary of terms..

View the resources for this guide.

Pain Management

All members of your health care team care about you and believe that you have a right to appropriate pain management. This information is offered as a tool to help you and your health care team manage your pain. This guide will explain:

  • The importance of pain control.
  • How pain relief impacts your recovery as well as your comfort.
  • How you can take an active role in choosing options for treating your pain.

What is Pain?

Pain is a sensation that hurts. Pain is defined as whatever you, the patient, defines as pain. Pain occurs whenever and wherever you say that it does. There are two main types of pain:

  • Acute Pain is a temporary pain that may be severe and is usually a signal that body tissue has been injured in some way such as a surgical procedure, burn, broken bone or other disease. The pain generally disappears when the injury heals.
  • Chronic Pain ranges from mild to severe and may be present to some degree for long periods of time.The cause is not always known.It may be related to such things as arthritis, back problems, persistent headaches, or other problems or diseases.

How Pain Can Affect Your Lifestyle

Pain Can Cause:

  • Tiredness
  • Depression
  • Anger
  • Worry
  • Loneliness
  • Stress

Pain Can Interfere With:

  • Daily activities
  • Interest in work and hobbies
  • Sleeping
  • Eating
  • Enjoying life
  • Sexual activity

Important Notes About Pain

  • Pain is always subjective.
  • There are effective methods of reducing and relieving pain. Your healthcare provider can better help you if you tell them about your pain.
  • Pain scales are useful tools to help you communicate pain intensity.
  • Pain relief helps you better cope with an illness or injury.
  • Well-controlled pain will enable you to do those activities, like walking and breathing exercises, that help you regain your strength and improve your overall recovery.
  • Not all pain can be completely relieved; however, through communication with your healthcare team, an acceptable level of pain control can be achieved.

What Should You Expect?

You have the right to pain management. From your healthcare providers you can expect:

  • Information about pain and pain relief measures
  • A concerned staff committed to pain prevention and management
  • Health professionals who try to respond quickly to reports of pain
  • Your reports of pain will be believed
  • State-of-the-art pain treatment methods
  • Reasonable access to pain relief specialists if needed

What Is Expected of You?

It is to your benefit to take an active role by:

  • Asking what to expect regarding pain and pain management
  • Discussing pain relief options with your healthcare team
  • Working with your healthcare team to develop a pain management plan
  • Asking for pain relief when pain first occurs
  • Telling your healthcare provider if your pain is not adequately relieved

Describing Your Pain

Different types of pain may require different medications or other methods of relief. How do you describe your pain? It will help your pain management team if you can provide the following descriptions of your pain:

Where is it? Does it spread or move to any other place? Can you point to it?

What does it feel like? For instance, is it sharp, dull, burning, searing, aching, cramping, shooting?

Is the pain constant or does it come and go? This pain scale is a reliable tool to help you measure your pain and to set goals for relief. How would you rate the pain on a scale of 0 - 10? (0 being no pain at all and 10 being the worst you've ever had)

0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Other factors
How did the pain start? How long have you had this pain? What kinds of activities make the pain better or worse? Is it better or worse when you walk, sit, stand, lie down?

How Is Pain Relieved?

Medicine and other treatments can almost always can relieve pain. Most pain is relieved by two methods:

With Medicine

Medications prescribed by your doctor may be used alone or in combination with other medications to get good pain relief. Medications that are used to relieve pain can be given in a variety of ways, including:

  • By mouth
  • By rectum
  • By injection or infusion
  • By epidural catheter
  • By skin patch

Patient Controlled Analgesia (PCA) is a method of giving pain medication using a machine that you control by pushing a button when you feel pain. Discuss this method with your doctor for more detail.

Pain medications that may be prescribed:

  • Non-Opioids - e.g., ibuprofen, aspirin, acetaminophen. Some of these medications are used to relieve arthritic and minor pain because they help reduce inflammation; some can also reduce fever.
  • Opioids - e.g., morphine, oxycodone, hydrocodone and codeine; these medications are usually used for moderate to severe pain. Some of these medications have a combination of aspirin or acetaminophen added to the tablets or capsules.
  • Adjuvants - e.g., muscle relaxants, steroids, antidepressants, and anticonvulsants; may be prescribed to use in combination with pain medication to help relieve your pain.

If you have any side effects or allergies related to these or other medications, please tell your healthcare team.

Without Medicine

You may need help from health professionals to learn to use these techniques for yourself.

  • Relaxation: Relieves pain by reducing muscle tension and anxiety. May include visual concentration, rhythmic breathing or massage.
  • Distraction: The use of activity such as watching TV, reading, arts and crafts, etc. to refocus your attention away from the pain.
  • Imagery: Uses your imagination to create mental pictures or situations - like a deliberate daydream.
  • Skin Stimulation: The use of massage, pressure, friction, temperature change or chemical substances to relieve pain.
  • Other Methods: May include surgery, nerve blocks, nerve stimulation, hypnosis, acupuncture, biofeedback, physical therapy, exercise and group therapy.

Pain Medication Tips

It is important for your healthcare team to know which prescription and non-prescription medications, alternative therapies or herbal supplements you take.

  • It is a good idea to keep a current list of all medications in your wallet.
  • It is also important to know how and when you take your medications.
  • Some medications cannot be taken together.
  • Your pain medication will work best when you take it on a regular schedule (by the clock).Taking medicine regularly, as your doctor tells you, will help keep the pain under control.
  • Do not skip a dose of medicine or wait for the pain to get worse before taking your medicine.
  • Ask your healthcare provider or nurse how and when to take extra medicine.If some activities make your pain worse, you may need to take extra medicine before these activities.
  • The goal is to prevent the pain.Once you feel the pain, it is harder to get it under control.
  • Treating pain is important and there are many medicines and treatments that may be used. If one medicine or treatment does not work, there may be another option that can be tried.
  • Please remember to always keep medications in a safe place - out of the reach of children.

Questions to Ask Your Health Care Team

  • What medicine(s) or treatments can you give me to relieve my pain?
  • How often and when should I take the medicine(s) and for how long?
  • What side effects are common? What should I do if they occur?
  • Should I also try non-medicine methods to relieve my pain?

Questions Your Health Care Team May Ask You

  • Where do you feel your pain?
  • What does it feel like? Sharp? Dull? Throbbing? Steady? Burning?
  • When did the pain begin? How often does it occur?
  • How bad is the pain? Can you use a pain scale to rate your pain? For example, on a scale of 0-10 with 10 being the worst pain, how would you rate your pain?
  • Does your pain prevent you from doing your daily activities? Which ones?
  • What relieves your pain? What makes it worse?

Communicating Pain Relief

  • Other than medication, is there anything that relieves the pain for you? How well does it relieve the pain? How long does the relief last?
  • If you take, or have taken, medication for pain, is there anything that has relieved the pain for you? How well does it relieve the pain? How long does the relief last? How often do you take it?

Worried About Pain? Discuss Your Concerns

Please discuss your concerns about taking pain medicines with your healthcare provider.Your concerns might include:

Q. I am afraid I will become addicted.

A. When pain medications are taken the right way, patients rarely become addicted. Talk to your healthcare team about the safe use of pain medicines. Most patients only need pain medicine until the cause of their pain goes away. Follow your doctor's advice and get the pain relief you need.

Q. Will I seem like a complainer if I ask for pain medicine?

A. You have a right to ask for pain relief; in fact, the sooner you speak up, the better. It is much easier to control pain in the early stages, before it becomes severe.

Q. Will pain medications make me lose control?

A. Most people do not experience loss of control when they take pain medicines the right way. You may feel drowsy when first taking some medicines, but this should go away after a few days. Tell your doctor if you experience unpleasant side effects. Changing your dose or type of medicine may solve the problem.


If you have suggestions for improving your pain management, please share this information with your healthcare provider, they welcome your ideas and input. Your healthcare team wants to know if you are satisfied with your pain relief. You are the most important member of the team!


  • American Pain Society (APS): Principles of analgesic use in the treatment of acute pain and cancer pain, ed. 4, Glenview, IL, 1999. APS.
  • National Institutes of Health (NIH): Get relief from cancer pain, NIH Pub. No. 94-3735, May 1994, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
  • National Insititues of Health (NIH): Pain Control, NIH Pub. NO. 00-4746, June 2000, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
  • Acupuncture: fine needles are inserted into the skin at certain points of the body to relieve pain.
  • Acute pain: pain that is severe, but lasts a relatively short time.
  • Addiction: uncontrollable drug craving, seeking, and use.
  • Adjuvant: a drug that can be used to treat some painful conditions but is generally used for other purposes.
  • Analgesics: medicines that are used to relieve pain.
  • Anesthesiologist: a doctor who specializes in giving medicines or other agents that prevent or relieve pain.
  • Anticonvulsants: antiseizure medicine, also used to control burning and tingling pain.
  • Antidepressant: a medicine used to treat depression or tingling or burning pain from damaged nerves.
  • Biofeedback: a method of learning to control certain body functions such as heartbeat, blood pressure, and muscle tension with the help of a special machine. This method can help control pain.
  • Breakthrough pain: occurs when moderate to severe pain breaks through or is felt for a short time.
  • Chronic pain: pain that can range from mild to severe, and is present for a long time.
  • Distraction: a pain relief method that takes the attention away from the pain.
  • Dose: the amount of medicine taken.
  • Epidural: an injection into the spinal column, but outside of the spinal cord.
  • Generic: official (compendial) names by which medicines are known.
  • Hypnosis: a person enters into a trance-like state, becomes more aware and focused, and is more open to suggestion.
  • Imagery: people think of pleasant images or scenes, such as waves hitting the beach, to help them relax.
  • Infusion: a method of giving pain medication into a vein; unlike an injection, which is pushed in by a syringe, an infusion flows by gravity or a mechanical pump.
  • Intramuscular (IM): into a muscle.
  • Intravenous (IV): into a vein.
  • Local anesthetic: a medicine that blocks the feeling of pain in specific location in the body.
  • Narcotic: see opioids.
  • Nerve block: pain medicine is injected directly into or around nerve or into the spine to block pain.
  • Nonopioids: acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin and ibuprofen.
  • Nonprescription: (over-the-counter) pain relievers (analgesics) that can be bought without a doctor's order.
  • NSAIDs (Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs): medicines that control mild to moderate pain and inflammation. Can be used either alone or in combination with other medicines.
  • Opioids: also known as narcotics. The strongest pain relievers available. A prescription is needed for these medicines.
  • Patient-controlled analgesia (PCA): a method in which a person with pain controls the amount of pain medicine that is taken. When pain relief is needed, the person can receive a preset dose of pain medicine by pressing a button on a computerized pump that is connected to a small tube in the body.
  • Physical therapy: a treatment for pain in muscles, nerves, joints, and bones with exercise, electrical stimulation, hydrotherapy, and the use of massage, heat, cold, and electrical devices.
  • Prescription: a doctor's order.
  • Relaxation techniques: methods used to lessen tension, reduce anxiety, and manage pain.
  • Side effect: problems caused by a medicine or procedure, such as constipation or drowsiness.
  • Skin patch: a bandage-like patch that releases medicine through the skin and then into the bloodstream. The medicine enters the blood slowly and steadily.
  • Subcutaneous injection: under the skin.
  • Tolerance: occurs when the body gets used to the medicine so that either more medicine is needed to control pain or different medicine is needed.
  • Transcutaneous Electric Nerve Stimulation (TENS): a technique in which mild electric currents are applied to some areas of the skin by a small power pack connected to two electrodes.
American Chronic Pain Association
P. O. Box 850
Rocklin, CA 95677
Fax: 916/632-3208
Has over 800 peer support group chapters worldwide; various written materials available; no physician/counseling referrals.
American Foundation for Urologic Disease
Prostate Cancer Support Network
300 West Pratt St., Suite 40
Baltimore, MD 21201
410/727-2908 or 800/828-7866
Has written material; access to about 400 national support groups; no physician referrals.
American Pain Foundation
111 S. Calvert Street, Suite 2700
Baltimore, MD 21202
Fax: 410/385-1832
A consumer information, education and advocacy organization dedicated to helping people in pain. The American Pain Foundation Website is an online resource center for people with pain, their families, friends, caregivers, the media, legislators, and the general public.
The American Pain Society (APS)
4700 W. Lake Avenue
Glenview, IL 60025
Fax: 847/375-6315
The American Pain Society (APS) is a multidisciplinary organization of basic and clinical scientists, practicing clinicians, policy analysts, and others.

Arthritis Foundation
1330 W. Peachtree
Atlanta, GA 30309
404/872-7100 or 800/283-7800
Has written material; support groups; will provide list of arthritis specialists in patient's area.

Candlelighters Childhood Cancer Foundation
8323 SW Freeway, Suite 435
Houston, TX 77074
Fax: 713/270-9802
Has written materials; over 400 peer support groups and contacts for all family members nationwide.
Cancer Care, Inc.
275 7th Avenue
New York, NY 10001
212/302-2400 or 800/813-4673
Fax: 212/719-0263
Has written material; telephone support groups and counseling; will locate other community services in patient area.
*Pain Assessment and Management: An Organizational Approach (2000). Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations. Joint Commission: Oakbrook Terrace, IL.
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