Painkillers are mostly taken by mouth – either as tablets or capsules. For people who find it hard to swallow, many oral medicines are available as liquids and some can be dissolved in water. Sometimes, painkillers may be given in other ways:
These are stuck onto the skin. They are useful when your pain is under control. They only need to be changed every few days.
Some painkillers can be rubbed onto the skin to help relieve pain in one area.
Buccal and sublingual medicines
These enter the bloodstream through the tissues in the mouth, so they don’t have to be swallowed. They are usually used for controlling breakthrough pain, as they work quickly.
Some painkillers can be sprayed into the nose. These work best for breakthrough pain.
These are inserted into the back passage of your bottom (also known as the rectum).
If you have a feeding tube such as a PEG (percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy) or RIG (radiologically inserted gastrostomy), some liquid or soluble painkillers can be given through the tube.
Many painkillers can be given by injection, either into a muscle or more usually under the skin.
Some painkillers can be given by infusion over a period of time. There are different ways of giving painkillers by infusion:
- Subcutaneous infusion -This involves giving a continuous dose of a drug or drugs into a fine needle that is placed just under the skin. A small portable pump called syringe driver is used to give the drugs.
- Intravenous infusion using a patient-controlled analgesia (PGA) - A PCA pump can be used to give pain relief after surgery. The pump has a button on a handset that you press to give yourself a set dose of a painkiller. If you need surgery, your doctors will give you more information about PCA.
- Epidural and intrathecal analgesia.
These may be used to relieve pain after surgery. They are also used during labour, when a woman is giving birth. Sometimes, they can be used to help people with cancer pain. An anaesthetist will manage this type of pain control. Your doctors or an anaesthetist will tell you more about epidural or intrathecal analgesia if you need them.