When you get hurt and have an “acute” pain, you may take something to control that pain and it usually goes away or is eased, but you only take the medicine when you feel the pain and want to reduce it. This is common for headaches, muscle strains, fractures, ligament sprains, or belly aches, and only lasts for a few hours, days or weeks. However, when a person has pain which never really goes away and continues for several months, regardless of the cause, it becomes “chronic pain”.
This is more common in cancer, some stroke pains, severe osteoporosis (thinning of the bones with compression of the spine). If you take something only when you feel the pain or when it becomes really severe, you never really “get ahead” of it, the pain remains uncontrolled and you’re always playing “catch-up”. Uncontrolled pain can lead to permanent nerve damage, which makes control much more difficult, and cause depression.
Thus, it is important for anyone with chronic pain, particularly related to a life-limiting disease, to take their pain medication regularly, on a schedule. Most drugs are prescribed on an every four hour schedule; but some extended-release forms may be every eight or twelve – follow the directions.