Patients Who Manage Post-Surgery Pain Best Know This

If you’ve spent any time in the aisles of your local pharmacy, you know there are A LOT of non-prescription medications available. Hundreds of options exist for cough, cold, allergies, pain and other conditions. And, for the most part, that is a really good thing. Easier access—no prescription required—means better treatment.

There is one drawback to medications becoming available “over-the-counter” (another term for non-prescription medications). Some believe that means those options are less effective than the medications kept behind the counter at the pharmacy. That’s not always the case. It’s definitely not the case when it comes to pain.

Over the last 20 years, opioid painkillers (generic names include hydrocodone, oxycodone, codeine, tramadol and others; brand names include Percocet, Vicodin, Tylenol #3, Ultram and others) have been marketed as the best medications to manage pain. Even as we have realized as a society the dangers of these medications (persistent use, addiction, overdose), some have still considered opioids the best pain medications.

The patients who best manage their way through pain after surgery know that isn’t true. Not only do opioids bring with them many side effects, they also don’t stack up well when compared to alternatives in managing pain.

The better option for treatment of pain, including after surgery?

Two medications you can find at any pharmacy:

  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol)
  • Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin)

In fact, acetaminophen taken in a scheduled regimen with ibuprofen has been shown to be 3x better than oxycodone alone and 2x better than oxycodone/acetaminophen (Percocet) in managing pain!

What does this regimen look like? Sometimes it is referred to as “stacking” the two medications. You can get the idea below:

  • Start by taking 650 mg of Tylenol (2 pills of 325 mg)
  • 3 hours later take 600 mg of Motrin (3 pills of 200 mg)
  • 3 hours after taking the Motrin take 650 mg of Tylenol
  • 3 hours after that take 600 mg of Motrin.

This tool from the University of Michigan provides more information about this approach.

There are some precautions to be aware of:

Medications Notes Maximum 24-Hour Dose
Acetaminophen (Tylenol) May not be the right option for patients with liver disease 4,000mg

 

Ibuprofen (Advil, Motril); other medications in this “NSAID” class (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) May not be the right option for patients with heart disease, liver disease, and/or GI disease (ulcers) 3,200mg

 

And don’t forget about the non-medication options to treat pain as well—heat, ice, rest and other approaches. The best strategy for managing pain often includes many solutions.

This is one area of healthcare where the best option also happens to be the most-readily available. That’s good news for everyone!

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