Pain Management in Nursing

Course Highlights

  • In this course you will learn about the epidemiology and physiology of pain.
  • You’ll also learn the basic types of pain and techniques of pain management in nursing.
  • You’ll leave this course with a broader understanding of both pharmacological and non-pharmacological pain treatments.


Contact Hours Awarded: 2

Morgan Curry

Course By:
Molina Allen

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The following course content

Pain is a subjective, complicated symptom that afflicts every human at some point in their lives. Pain management in nursing within healthcare settings is a challenge and must take into consideration patient-centered preferences, treatment goals, as well as guidelines and laws from governing bodies. For many years, opioids were the first line of defense against acute and chronic pain conditions. With the opioid crisis, this mindset has been required to change.  

The Epidemiology of Pain

Pain is a subjective, complicated symptom that afflicts every human at some point in their lives. Managing pain within healthcare settings is a challenge and must take into consideration patient-centered preferences, treatment goals, as well as guidelines and laws from governing bodies. For many years, opioids were the first line of defense against acute and chronic pain conditions. With the opioid crisis, this mindset has been required to change.  

Due to an overabundance of prescribing opioids, the opioid related death toll has continued to rise. Not only has this fatal epidemic resulted in untimely deaths for many, it is estimated that “For every 1 prescription opioid death, there are 20 specialty substance abuse treatment admissions, 45 emergency department visits for nonmedical use and adverse events, 156 people with substance use disorder and dependence, and 533 people using the drugs non-medically overall” (1). This public health crisis has resulted in the conviction of pharmaceutical companies that were behind the political stronghold monopoly on pain management in America. As a result, the Federal government has collaborated with The Institute of Medicine (IOM) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), among many other experts in the field, to develop a plan that protects the American public from unintended opioid use and promotes a multi-disciplined, multi-modal approach to combating pain in America.

Quiz Questions

Self Quiz

Ask yourself...

  1. What is your current understanding of the different types of pain people can experience, as well as common treatment methods?
  2. What actions can be taken to determine a patients pain level during an assessment?

Statistics to Consider on Pain Management in Nursing

Pain is a widespread public health concern that reaches every corner within America. In a 2011 report titled, Relieving Pain in America: A Blueprint for Transforming, Care, Education, and Research, the IOM revealed that pain affects nearly 100 million Americans and nationally costs upwards of 635 billion each year (2). Of these numbers, over 25 million American adults report that they suffer from pain daily, while 23.4 state a significant amount of pain (3).  

Researchers gathered data from 8,781 American adult participants regarding individual perceptions of their overall health, underlying illnesses, and pain experiences within the previous three months. This study ranked pain on a scale of categories from one through four, with one being the least amount of pain, and four being the highest level of pain. From this data, it is estimated that almost 40 million individuals ranked themselves as living with pain at a category three or four. Individuals in these categories were also found more likely to have an accompanying disability, access healthcare on a more frequent basis, and have an overall worse quality of health and life (3). 

Quiz Questions

Self Quiz

Ask yourself...

  1. Do these statistics surprise you? Why or why not?
  2. How many individuals ranked themselves as living with high category pain in 2011?

What is Pain and Why Does it Occur? 

Merriam-Webster defines pain as “a localized or generalized unpleasant bodily sensation or complex of sensations that causes mild to severe physical discomfort and emotional distress and typically results from bodily disorder (such as injury or disease) (4)”.  

Pain is the body’s defense to achieve a response against further damage from a perceived threatening stimulus. The brain perceives pain via specific pathways. Four stages of pain transmission occur: transduction, transmission, perception and modulation (5). 

Receptors within afferent fibers are activated when a potential threatening stimulus occurs. This initiates three stages of pain perception. Initially, pain sensitivity is triggered. From there, signals follow a network of peripheral neural pathways towards the spinal cord. Within the spinal cord is the dorsal horn, which contains neurons that translate and relay information about the painful or irritating peripheral stimulus to the thalamus and cortex in order to elicit a protective response (5,6). 

Pain can be further distinguished within two frameworks, chronic and acute, and by pain related conditions, such as inflammatory responses, nociceptive, and physiological dysfunctions.    

Quiz Questions

Self Quiz

Ask yourself...

  1. How would you have previously defined pain?
  2. How does this prior understanding compare to the definition outlined in this course?

Identifying Types of Pain for Pain Management in Nursing

Pain is classified by three distinct types: nociceptive, inflammatory, and neuropathic. The following are general descriptions of the types of pain you may encounter; however, it must be noted that they can sometimes overlap each other or occur at the same time.

Nociceptive Pain

Nociceptive pain is that which is due to nerve impairment or injury and is the most common type of pain that occurs. It is sometimes noted as being central pain that is caused by repeated or harmful stimuli. The nociceptors activated in this type of pain are spread throughout the body within internal organs, bones, joints, and the integumentary system (6). Nociceptive pain is generally described as radicular, somatic, or visceral depending on the nerve involvement. Examples of nociceptive pain include the sensation from touching a hot object, a broken arm, or a paper cut at the initial time of injury. It may also describe pain caused by cancer, arthritic changes, and ischemic pain that is not originated from nerve injury. 

Inflammatory Pain

Inflammatory pain is part of the cascade of sequelae that makes up the immunological defense to damage caused by heat, toxins, trauma, foreign substances, or infection. Neutrophils, along with prostaglandins, histamine, and other chemical mediators flood the location of injured tissues as a part of the bodies normal, inflammatory response. Classic signs include erythema, edema, and heat at the site of injury (6). Inflammatory pain can be seen in cases of an ankle sprain, cellulitis, and allergic reactions.  

Neuropathic Pain

Neuropathic pain is also often associated with a phenomenon called allodynia. Allodynia is the sensation of pain from an activity or event that is typically not associated with causing pain. Rather than being the result of a physiological event, neuropathic pain is pathologic in nature. According to Yam, Loh, Tan, Adam, Manan, and Basir (2018), “This condition can be described as “pathologic” pain, because neuropathic pain actually serves no purpose in terms of defense system for our body, and the pain could be in the form of continuous sensation or episodic incidents” (6). It is thought to be caused by disorders affecting the peripheral or central nervous system and is linked to diseases that cause nerve damage such as trauma, toxins, diabetes, as well as certain viral infections, such as herpes zoster.

Quiz Questions

Self Quiz

Ask yourself...

  1. Think of a patient you have encountered in your practice who experienced chronic pain. 
  2. How would you classify this patient’s pain?
  3. What are the key differences between each type of pain?
  4. What are some examples of each type of pain? 

Chronic Pain vs. Acute Pain

Acute pain is that which is short-term and self-limiting. Generally, the timeframe of acute pain is based on the expected healing process of the injurious event and may be up to six months. Chronic pain lasts beyond the expected period of healing or is recurrent. Acute pain can usually be attributed to a defined contributing factor or event, such as appendicitis or a broken bone. Chronic pain can be related to a myriad of causes or the etiology may be unknown.  

In clinical settings, pain lasting more than three months is typically used to define the transition from acute to chronic. As such, chronic pain must be treated and managed differently than acute pain.

Risk Factors

There are several risk factors that can increase the likelihood of an individual experiencing chronic pain. In general, age influences the prevalence of chronic pain by population, with those age 18 to 39 having an increased prevalence of chronic pain. This may be due to other age groups under-reporting. Those over 80 were found to report acute pain more often but were less likely to acknowledge chronic pain when asked. Cognitive decline, dementia and other age-related diseases must also be considered when collecting data. Chronic pain after surgery is reported at a higher rate amongst adolescents (7).  

Chronic pain is more likely to be experienced and reported by females over males. However, studies have shown that women experience pain differently than males at a lower threshold. Women have been found to be more likely to seek treatment for pain (7,8). 

Certain co-morbidities have been identified that are linked to an increase of chronic pain. 

Almost 90% of patients reporting chronic pain have significant co-morbidities. Co-morbidities with the highest link to chronic pain are cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and depression. The link between chronic pain also affects mortality rates. In those reporting severe chronic pain, the 10-year survival rate is decreased significantly. At ten years, those reporting severe chronic pain are twice as likely to have died from ischemic heart disease or respiratory disease than those with little to no pain (7). 

Depression and anxiety are reported at a rate four times higher in individuals with chronic pain than those living without pain (7). Specific conditions that have a higher rate of being linked to mental health disorders include (all from 9): 

  • Arthritis 
  • Fibromyalgia 
  • Back/Neck pain 
  • Chronic migraines 
  • Menstrual-related pain 

 Other factors that have been found to influence the prevalence of reported chronic pain include (7,8): 

  •  Poverty 
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Obesity 
  • Manual labor occupations 
  • Unemployed 
  • Smoker 
  • Alcohol use 
  • Lack of physical activity 
  • Poor nutrition 
  • Low levels of Vitamin D 
  • Post-surgical and medical interventions 
  • Sleep Disorders
Quiz Questions

Self Quiz

Ask yourself...

  1. What co-morbidities have the highest link to chronic pain? 

Physical and Psychological Elements of Pain

Pain elicits a response from the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) leading to signs and symptoms affecting all systems of the body. The following are some of the physical effects that pain may cause within each individual system. 

With the sensation of pain, the cardiovascular system anticipates that a potentially threatening is occurring. The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) produces a rush of adrenaline and cortisol that results in tachycardia, hypertension, and increased oxygen demand. The respiratory response includes elevated breathing that is shallow. The cortisol levels have an effect on the endocrine system, resulting in a surge of glucose. This triggers a release of glucagon from the liver that will help keep up with the demands needed for the fight or flight response. In contrast, with chronic pain, continued elevated cortisol levels may lead to chronic hyperglycemia. The gastrointestinal system slows down gastric motility whichcan lead to nausea, vomiting, and constipation. Chronic pain may also lead to an increase in gastrointestinal discomfort, like irritable bowel syndrome. The urinary tract reacts to stress with oversensitivity that can lead to an increased urgency to urinate, and possibly incontinence (5).  

Physical indications of pain can be seen from the musculoskeletal system, pilo-erection, tremors, muscle tension and rigidity are some examples. The nervous system reconfigures and will attempt to adapt to the additional stress. Repeated episodes of acute pain can increase the risk of an individual developing chronic pain. Cumulatively, the stress and changes that can occur in these systems will have a negative effect on the immune system. The immune system will eventually be unable to keep up with the demand and become desensitized to repeated inflammation culminating in a lowered immune response. The lowered immune response poses an increased risk of infection for the individual (5). 

Psychological Responses

Pain can cause a wide array of psychological symptoms that are subjective and may be difficult to quantify. These can include anxiety, fear and poor concentration, (5). When pain is experienced, the activation of certain parts of the brain induce a heightened awareness and fear as a defense mechanism. Part of this process also provides a certain level of natural analgesia. With long-term pain this results in continued activation of this system, leading to increased risk for depression, anxiety, and abnormal sleep patterns (5). As stated by Swift (2018), “A high threat level induces strong emotions such as fear or intense anxiety, leading to a state of high arousal, awareness and/or vigilance, which in turn reduces sensitivity to pain. A low or moderate threat level causes a less intense response, such as low-level anxiety or depression, which induces a low-to-moderate state of arousal in which pain is more easily felt” (5).

Quiz Questions

Self Quiz

Ask yourself...

  1. What are some long term effects of chronic pain on the body? 
  2. Have you ever personally experienced pain or treated a patient with chronic pain that led to anxiety, depression, or a sleeping disorder? How was this managed?  

Pain Management in Nursing

New evidence published by the CDC suggests that opioid dependency can occur in as little as a ten-day course of treatment. In addition, the American Pain Society and the American Society of Anesthesiologists have released guidelines that stress a multi-modal approach to pain management in nursing in the operative and recovery setting. Of the recommendations, the following are strongly supported by evidence (as cited in 10): 

“. . . that clinicians offer multimodal analgesia, or the use of a variety of analgesic medications and techniques combined with nonpharmacological interventions, for the treatment of postoperative pain in children and adults” 

“. . . that clinicians provide adults and children with acetaminophen and/or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) as part of multimodal analgesia for management of postoperative pain in patients without contraindications” 

“. . . that clinicians offer neuraxial analgesia for major thoracic and abdominal procedures, particularly in patients at risk for cardiac complications, pulmonary complications, or prolonged ileus” 

“. . . that clinicians consider surgical site-specific peripheral regional anesthetic techniques in adults and children for procedures with evidence indicating efficacy”. 

The shift has moved from starting patients on opioids right after surgeries or other procedures, to treating pain using the multi-modal approach which stresses using alternatives to opioids as the first line of defense. The CDC further recommends and advises (11): 

Nonopioid medications are not generally associated with development of substance use disorder. The number of fatal overdoses associated with nonopioid medications is a fraction of those associated with opioid medications. Nonopioid medications are also associated with certain risks, particularly in older patients, pregnant patients, and patients. With certain comorbidities such as cardiovascular, renal, gastrointestinal, and liver disease. Nonpharmacological treatments can reduce pain and improve function in patients with chronic pain. These treatments can also encourage active patient participation in the care plan, address the effects of pain in the patient’s life, and can result in sustained improvement in pain management in nursing and function with minimal risks. If opioids are used, they should be combined with nonopioid medication and nonpharmacological treatments, as appropriate.” 

Pharmacological Pain Treatments (Adapted From 11)

Opioids may be used for moderate to severe acute or chronic lower back pain, osteoarthritis, and neuropathic pain. Studies showing long-term efficacy are extremely limited. Opioids are suggested only after other non-opioid and non-pharmacological therapies have failed to provide relief. This drug class should be used with caution as it may induce sedation, respiratory depression, nausea, vomiting, and/or constipation.  

Short Acting

  • Codeine 
  • Hydrocodone/acetaminophen or ibuprofen 
  • Oxycodone/acetaminophen or ibuprofen 
  • Hydromorphone 
  • Morphine 
  • tramadol 

Long Acting

  • Fentanyl 
  • Hydrocodone 
  • Methadone 
  • Morphine 
  • Oxycodone 
  • Oxymorphone 
  • Tapentadol 

Anticonvulsants may be used for fibromyalgia, diabetic and other neuropathies, and neuralgias. Use with caution as significant drug-drug reactions have occurred. Dosing should be adjusted for renal impairment. May cause sedation, dizziness, dry mouth, weight gain, and edema. 

  • Gabapentin 
  • Pregabalin 
  • Carbamazepine 
  • Valproic acid 

Antidepressants are commonly prescribed for fibromyalgia, low back pain with radiculopathy, migraines, neuropathies and neuralgias, and chronic musculoskeletal pain. Patient must be monitored for mood changes and is at an increased risk for suicide. Other side effects may include sedation, urinary retention, dry mouth, weight gain, and blurry vision. Cardiac patients must be monitored for arrythmias and blood pressure changes. 

Tricyclic Antidepressants 

  • Amitriptyline 
  • Desipramine 
  • Nortriptyline 

Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors 

  • Duloxetine 
  • Milnacipran 
  • Venlafaxine 

Muscle Relaxers are effective for acute lower back pain and fibromyalgia. May cause sedation and dizziness. Caution must be used when operating a car or machinery. 

  • Carisoprodol 
  • Cyclobenzaprine 
  • Metaxalone 
  • Methocarbamol 
  • Tizanidine 

Topical agents are particularly helpful for osteoarthritic and rheumatoid arthritic pain as well as neuropathies. May be used for relief of sprains, strains, and back pain.  

  • Capsaicin 
  • Diclofenac Topical Gel 
  • Lidocaine 5% patches 
  • Menthol/Salicylate 

Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs may be used to treat backache, joint pain and inflammation, headache, arthritic pain, muscle aches, strains, and menstrual cramps. Caution should be used in patients with liver or kidney disease and alcohol misuse. May cause gastrointestinal discomfort or bleeding. Use with caution if patient is on anticoagulation therapy. 

  • Ibuprofen 
  • Diclofenac 
  • Indomethacin 
  • Meloxicam 
  • Naproxen 
  • Celecoxib 
  • Aspirin 

Acetaminophen remains one of the most commonly prescribed pain relievers for headache, backache, muscle ache, and joint pain. Caution must be used with liver disease and alcohol misuse. Dosage must not exceed 3,000-4,000 mg/day. 

Interventional Treatments include epidural or intraarticular glucocorticoid injections and arthrocentesis. The CDC recommends these for short-term treatment of inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, rotator cuff disease and other radiculopathies.

Quiz Questions

Self Quiz

Ask yourself...

  1. What are some examples of long-acting opioids? 
  2. What are some examples of short-acting opioids? 
  3. Why is it so important to monitor for mood changes with antidepressants? 
  4. What are the challenges of opioid use and abuse when it comes to pain management in nursing?

Non-Pharmacological Treatment

The CDC provides many strategies for healthcare providers to manage the challenges of patient pain control in a manner that lessens the need for opioid use and provides alternative options. Primarily, a patient-centered approach to treatment is now the gold standard and should include patient engagement.  

Suggestions and strategies to incorporate patient cooperation and engagement with their pain management plan include (all from 12): 

  • Use reflective listening by maintaining eye contact, empathizing, and confirming understanding 
  • Set agreed upon, reasonable and achievable goals 
  • Discuss treatment options using a multi-modal treatment plan 

As part of a multimodal therapy in treating pain, the CDC highly recommends incorporating exercise along with other psychological-based approaches into care. These may include: 

  • Physical and occupational therapy includes exercise such as swimming, yoga, walking, free weights, and other strength training. This can improve strength and posture, which may provide relieve from lower back, hip, and osteoarthritic pain, improve fibromyalgia symptoms, and has been shown effective in preventing migraines (12). 
  • Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is a psychosocial training technique that addresses modifiable situation factors and cognitive processes that may affect the experience of pain. CBT aims to provide coping techniques, relaxation methods, and may include self-help instruction, professional counseling, or support group attendance (12).  
  • Heat Therapy 
  • Cryotherapy 
  • Massage 
  • Ultrasound 
  • Transcutaneous Electric Nerve Stimulation (TENS) units  
  • Acupuncture 
  • Hypnosis 
  • Stress Management 
  • Chiropractic Manipulation 
  • Herbal Preparations 
  • Aromatherapy
Quiz Questions

Self Quiz

Ask yourself...

  1. Can you think of a patient experience where you used cognitive behavior therapy principles to help better manage their pain? Do you think it was effective? Why or why not? 

Federal Laws on Opioid Prescribing and Use

In 2016, the CDC reported that over 40 Americans were dying each day due to prescription opioid overdoses. The opioid crisis has been attributed to over prescribing with a lack of oversight that has led to a 400% increase in prescriptions and sales since 1999 (13). In response, the federal government implemented an initiative to combat the issue with improved education, guidelines, and treatment management. In October of 2018, the Substance Use Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment for Patients and Communities Act, a 660-page bill was signed into law. This comprehensive, bi-partisan legislation aimed to provide funding and expand access in order to increase treatment availability through Medicaid and Medicare, expand alternative non-opioid pain management treatment, set guidelines for improved patient education, and identify best practices.  

Prescription-drug monitoring programs and the use of electronic prescribing for Schedule II and III medications is supported by the Federal government and allows individual states to have primary control over authorization and enforcement.

Drug Classification and Schedules In the United States

Under the Public Health Code, Act 368, state and federal agencies monitor certain drugs based on their risk of addiction, dependance, and abuse characteristics. These controlled substances are categorized based on a system of Schedules I through V. There are three criteria that determines the drugs category: acceptable medical use, potential for abuse, and the predictive value of dependance if it is abused (14). The schedules are as follows: 

Schedule I drugs are considered to have no appropriate medical use and have an extremely high potential for abuse. Examples of Schedule I drugs include: 

  • LSD 
  • Heroin 
  • Bath Salts 
  • Quaaludes

Schedule II drugs have a high potential for abuse and may lead to psychological or physical dependance. Examples of Schedule II drugs include: 

  • Fentanyl 
  • Demerol 
  • OxyContin 
  • Morphine 
  • Codeine 
  • Marijuana

Schedule III drugs have a high potential for abuse and may lead to psychological or physical dependence. Examples of Schedule III drugs include: 

  • Acetaminophen with Codeine 
  • Vicodin 
  • Suboxone 
  • Ketamine 
  • Anabolic Steroids

Schedule IV drugs have a low to moderate potential for psychological or physical dependence but have a lower risk for abuse. Examples of Schedule IV drugs include:

  • Ativan 
  • Xanax 
  • Valium 
  • Soma 
  • Klonopin

Schedule V drugs are a low potential for physical or psychological dependence or abuse. Examples of Schedule V drugs include: 

  • Gabapentin 
  • Robitussin 
  • Ezogabine 
  • Phenergan with Codeine

CDC Guidelines and Recommendations on Prescribing and Use

The CDC continues to promote guidelines to support the U.S. government’s initiative to curb the increasingly troubling deaths related to opioid overdose. These guidelines are aimed at assisting primary healthcare providers in effectively managing and treating patient’s pain while addressing health and safety concerns. In relation to opioid use, the guidelines revolve around three main principles (all from 13):  

  • Nonopioid therapy is preferred for chronic pain outside of active cancer, palliative, and end-of-life care. 
  • When opioids are used, the lowest possible effective dosage should be prescribed to reduce risks of opioid use disorder and overdose. 
  • Providers should always exercise caution when prescribing opioids and monitor all patients closely.

Drug Diversion Within the Healthcare System

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, the most commonly abused drugs are among five classes and are frequently used in the treatment of pain. These include opioids, depressants, stimulants, hallucinogenic, and anabolic steroids. Of these, the opioid drug fentanyl is the number one drug involved in drug diversion cases (17).  

When used outside of medical purposes, fentanyl has an extremely high rate of fatality. Far from being just a public problem, drug diversion is a significant problem for healthcare organizations and abusers can be found at all levels, from the C-suite to frontline staff. There are several signs of drug diversion, including poor appearance, failing job performance, uncharacteristic behaviors for the individual, and accessing medication that is not required for their job (17).  

The Joint Commission offers these guidelones to help identify potential trends and patterns that may indicate the occurrence of drug diversion in the clinical setting (all from 17): 

  • Schedule II – V substances are removed: 
  • Without provider orders 
  • Under patients not assigned to the nurse 
  • Under patients that have been discharged or transferred 
  • Excessively by one individual 
  • Substitute drug is removed and administered while controlled substance is diverted’ 
  • Verbal order for controlled substances is created but not verified by prescriber 
  • Prescription pads are diverted and used to forge prescriptions for controlled substances 
  • Provider self-prescribes controlled substances 
  • Patient alters written prescription 
  • Unadministered medication that is documented as given to patient  
  • Wastes are not completed according to policy and procedures 
  • Multiple discrepancies or overrides are noted  
  • Patient’s report unrelieved pain, despite increasing documented pain medication administration 
  • Assistance is frequently offered to administer medications for other nursing staff 
  • Expired controlled substances go missing or are diverted from medication dispensing systems

Individual policies and procedure should be followed when drug diversion is recognized in a clinical setting with careful consideration to patient safety and of the offender. The drug diversion should be reported to an immediate supervisor or manager. Nursing management should contact Quality Control and initiate a thorough root-cause analysis.  

Risks of drug diversion include transmission of blood borne pathogens, patient safety compromised due to impaired healthcare provider, uncontrolled patient pain, and potential for healthcare provider overdose. 

The Joint Commission advocates for a “see something, say something” approach to combating healthcare provider drug diversion. A plan to prevent drug diversion within the health care organizations should include three approaches: prevention, detection, and response. 

Additionally, they state “Detection of drug diversion is challenging, and even the best efforts have not yet achieved complete eradication of diversion. Patient and workplace safety require effective reliable safeguards to maintain the integrity of safe medication practices to protect against diversion. Diversion prevention requires continuous prioritization and active management to guard against complacency” (17).

Quiz Questions

Self Quiz

Ask yourself...

  1. What can you do as a healthcare provider to prevent drug diversion? 
  2. Have you seen specific examples of drug diversion in your workplace?
  3. What can you learn from that situation? 

Risks of Opioid Use and Misuse

Opioids target mu receptors in the brain and spinal cord. Through inhibition of GABA, dopamine is released. Opioid’s increased risk for addiction is due to the increase of circulating dopamine which is associated with increased pleasure responses. Opioid use has been clinically linked to an increase in addiction as well as substance use disorder. Substance use disorder has been defined by the American Psychiatric Association (ASA) as “. . . a problematic pattern of use of an intoxicating substance, leading to clinically significant impairment or distress” (18). Per the APA, this is calculated by at least two of the following characteristics (all from 18): 

  • The substance is often taken in larger amounts or over a longer period than it was intended 
  • There is persistent desire or unsuccessful effort to cut down or control use of the substance 
  • A great deal of time is spent in activities necessary to obtain the substance, use the substance, or recover from its effects 
  • Craving or a strong desire or urge to use the substance 
  • Recurrent use of the substance, resulting in a failure to fulfill key role obligations at work, school, or home 
  • Continued use of the substance despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of its use 
  • Important social, occupational, or recreation activities are given up or reduced because of use of the substance 
  • Recurrent use of the substance in situations in which it is physically hazardous 
  • Use of the substance is continued despite having knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by the substance 
  • Tolerance: a need for markedly increased amounts of the substance to achieve intoxication or desired effect OR a markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of the substance 
  • Withdrawal: characteristic withdrawal syndrome for that substance OR the substance (or a closely related substance) is taken to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms

A comparison study was performed based on information garnered in a 2016-2017 study group that focused on the use and misuse of opioids among individuals medicating with opioids inappropriately. This group was split into four categories and compared medical prescription opioid users with prescriptions with the following: misusers without prescriptions, misusers of own prescriptions, and misusers with both types of misuse (19). 

Individual misusers without a prescription were typically younger, male, and unmarried versus misusers with prescriptions, whether using medically or misusing. It was found that misusers also had an alcohol disorder, used marijuana, and misused benzos and stimulants. Misusers were also more likely to be nicotine dependent and to use cocaine and/or heroin (19). 

Prescription users were more likely to concurrently use prescribed benzodiazepines and stimulants. Depression among all misusers was higher compared with the medical users. Many misusers had also previously received treatment from an inpatient mental health treatment center and had been prescribed a medication for a mental health condition. Overall, this group was not more likely to have a physical health condition (19).

Perceived Barriers to Pain Management in Nursing

Unfortunately a stigma has been cast upon individuals with chronic pain being viewed as "drug seekers", whether they are taking opioids or not. Healthcare professionals should be cautioned against projecting biases onto sufferers of pain as seeking pain medications for misuse reasons. As previously detailed, many patients experiencing pain have co-morbidities and are at a higher risk of having mental health issues in addition to pain.  

Barriers to non-opioid and non-pharmacological pain control may include an insufficient medication regimen ordered to address patient’s pain, inadequate training, nursing workload, and a lack of collaborative approaches by the healthcare team (20). Barriers to the use of non-pharmacological pain relief methods have been cited as (all from 20): 

  • Inadequate training of personnel in how to examine pain and non-pharmacological control methods 
  • Patients’ lack of cooperation in the use of non-pharmacological methods to relieve pain 
  • Insufficient knowledge about non-pharmaceutical pain relief methods 
  • Time-consuming methods of nonpharmaceutical pain relief 
  • Nurse’s reluctance to use non-pharmaceutical pain relief methods 
  • Failure to use non-pharmacological methods by the physician

The study found that with improved education, communication, and collaboration, improved pain management can be achieved for patients.

Quiz Questions

Self Quiz

Ask yourself...

  1. What are some steps that you as a healthcare provider can take in preventing the stigma with chronic pain patients as it relates to opioid use? 
  2. How can you administer pain relievers using best practice?

Nursing Considerations and Interventions

Nursing care plans focused on pain management may be categorized by acute or chronic pain; however, the management and interventions are similar for each. The outcomes should be specific to the patient presentation, disease process, and preferences (21).  

Pain Assessment and Screening Tools

Screening tools are one of the easiest and most effective ways to assess for pain. Some of the most commonly used in clinical care include (5, 21): 

  • Wong-Baker FACES Scale – may be used for children over the age of 3 and adults 
  • FLACC and CRIES – used for infants 
  • COMFORT Scale – May be used in children and cognitively impaired or sedated adults 
  • Visual Analog Scale 
  • Numerical Rating Scale

Pain should be also assessed by the patient reported characteristics using pain standardization scales such the McGill Pain Questionnaire. Some of the verbiage used to describe pain include (5): 

  • Aching 
  • Burning 
  • Shooting 
  • Stabbing 
  • Throbbing 
  • Tender

In addition to screening tools, the nursing assessment should include visualization of signs of pain that can include guarding or protecting certain areas of the body, facial changes such as grimacing or furrowing of brows, and other manifestations of pain such as restlessness, moaning, or crying (5).

Quiz Questions

Self Quiz

Ask yourself...

  1. Which of the pain scale tools have you used in your professional practice?
  2. Do you think they were effective in helping you determine your patients’ level of pain?
  3. Do you think one is more effective than another? 

Conclusion -  Nursing Interventions Related to Pain Management in Nursing

  • Provide therapeutic communication and patient-centered care, taking into consideration patient preference. 
  • Assess and document patient baseline of vital signs, complete head-to-toe assessment, and review medications for pain. 
  • Assess and document patient pain through use of a pain scale, and responses to interventions. 
  • Establish an agreed upon pain level that is acceptable to the patient with chronic pain, providing education that no pain at all is not a reasonable goal. 
  • Administer pain medications per physician orders. 
  • Regularly assess for sedation in patients who are receiving pain medication. 
  • Administer naloxone for patients presenting with clinical signs of over-sedation with opioid use. 
  • Provide education on and integrate alternative pain treatment per patient preference and provider orders.

Being able to have a firm concept of the different types of pain management in nursing, the contributing factors that lead to pain and the various modes of treatment will allow you to provide better care for your patients, while simultaneously allowing you to connect with them and formulate a more individualized plan of care.

References + Disclaimer

  2. Institute of Medicine. (2011). Relieving pain in America: A blueprint for transforming prevention, care, education, and researchpdf iconexternal icon. Washington, DC: National Academies Press 
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