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Pain relief after an injury

For the first few days after a sprain or broken bone, there will be swelling around your injury and you'll feel some pain. The casts, elastic bandages, rest and ice treatment your doctors prescribe will help to reduce this. Usually you'll also need to take pain-relieving medicine.

You should only take pain medicine – whether it's prescribed by your doctor, or you buy it over the counter – at the dose you are told. Never take more because you think it will work better. It won't, and it could have dangerous side effects.

Your GP, practice nurse or pharmacist will be able to give you advice about what to take and how to take it. Your GP will also provide you with a prescription if they think you'll need a medicine that you can't buy over the counter.

A few common medications are recommended for use after an injury.

Paracetamol

People often think paracetamol won't be strong enough to treat their pain, but it's actually a very effective medicine if you take it at the right dose and at regular times through the day. As long as you take it correctly it's a very safe medicine and it has very few or no side effects for most people.

The usual adult dose is two 500 mg tablets every six to eight hours but no more than eight tablets over 24 hours.

If you're taking paracetamol for a longer time your GP may recommend you only take six tablets over 24 hours.

Ibuprofen

This is also a very effective pain medicine and is generally safe for most people. Check with your GP or pharmacist if you're not sure if you can take ibuprofen. For example, if you've had a stomach ulcer, heart or kidney problem.

Don't take ibuprofen if you've broken a bone. The anti-inflammatory effect may slow down bone healing.

Ibuprofen can help reduce swelling and pain in soft-tissue injuries such as ankle sprains.

The usual adult dose is two 200 mg tablets every six to eight hours, but no more than six tablets over 24 hours. You should take ibuprofen with food.

Codeine

This is one of a group of stronger pain relievers called opioid medicines. It works well with paracetamol. Panadeine is a combined paracetamol and codeine tablet. Your doctor can prescribe Panadeine and other codeine tablets.

Codeine can have side effects, including:

Most people are fine with codeine and it can be good for short-term pain relief. Make sure you drink plenty of water, so you don't get constipated. Once your pain starts getting better, stop taking as much codeine, or stop it altogether if you can. People can become addicted to codeine if they don't take it properly.

Tramadol and oral morphine

You may be prescribed these if you have a more severe injury. These are strong medicines and can have quite a few side effects. It's important to see your GP if you're taking this type of medicine so that they can advise you how to take it safely and supervise you as you reduce the amount you're taking.

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Endorsed by director of nursing, Orthopaedics Services, Canterbury DHB. Last reviewed February 2020.

Sources

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Review key: HILWI-174362