8 Effective Pain Relievers for Living with Chronic Pain

I’m often asked what medications I use for relieving the pain and symptoms of living with multiple chronic illnesses. For that reason, I wanted to write a post outlining the medications I rely on to enable me to live, not just exist. In these past 8 years, we have pretty much tried everything. While some people have luck with some preventative drugs, it seems that my body only responds well to those that alleviate the symptoms once they’ve set in.

Because we all have very different bodies, I wanted to first outline some of the more commonly prescribed drugs, before highlighting the ones that work well for me:

Cymbalta: An FDA approved anti-depressant; used off-label, that is supposed to curtail many of the symptoms of Fibro by treating the underlying disease. Cymbalta did nothing to help me with either the mental aspects of my illnesses, nor the physical ones. As is the case with many of the other meds I’ve tried, coming off of Cymbalta was absolutely horrific.

Nortriptyline and Lyrica: Medications used to treat nerve pain. Holy sweet side effects. And, yep, no relief. Although admittedly, I didn’t spend enough time on them to experience any positive effects.

Methotrexate: An injectable chemotherapy drug used in low doses for Rheumatoid Arthritis (etc). Initially, this worked great. Two months in, the side effects began to far outweigh the benefits. Two years later and I’m still struggling to regrow my hair back.

Prednisone: A steroid. At one time, I was on this daily. Prednisone is great for lessening the symptoms of Fibro and ME/CFS, but used over a long period of time, it can have life endangering side effects. I have also experienced a near manic depressive episode, as a result of a high dose burst, that left me suicidal. So I only use this when I’m having a long term flare I can’t pull out of.

Plaquenil: An anti-malarial. It’s typically prescribed early on for Rheumatoid Arthritis and Lupus to lessen the advancement of the diseases. I was originally diagnosed with Lupus, then Rheumatoid Arthritis. Despite having an Aunt with RA and a positive ANA, it was subsequently determined not to be either. Plaquenil can lead to blindness, but regular eye checks, to catch any issues, can mitigate this side effect. I saw no changes as a result of using this.

Topomax: An anti-epileptic, used off label, to curtail chronic headaches and migraines. It worked great once getting over the catastrophic gastrointestinal effects. After being on this for several months, EPIC mood swings and uncharacteristic bouts of anger were cause to come off. Oh right, I almost forgot, it also can cause Kidney Stones and blood in your urine. A not well known, scary as HELL, side effect.

Modafanil: A wakefulness promoting drug, used to combat the disabling exhaustion from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis). This only caused me to feel “speedy”, not awake. It also came with the bonus of heart palpitations, dizziness, nausea and an elevated heart rate.

Klonopin: An anti-seizure med, used off label, to aid in sleeping. Initially, it worked well to help me sleep through the pain and Restless Limbs Syndrome (RLS). After a time, it lost it’s efficacy unless the dose was increased. It also began to cause dizziness, light headedness and vertigo. Coming off of Klonopin was nothing short of Hell.

So now, what DOES work? Here are my top five medications that DO work. That have minimal side effects (well, sort of??) for me.

1. Tramadol: An Opiod derivative pain reliever. It’s highly demonized due to it’s high potential for addiction. But, it works, for me. Tramadol has enabled me to have somewhat of a normal life. It blunts the pain enough for me to live. A couple of added HUGE perks? It also helps with the Restless Limbs and gives a slight boost of energy. I try to take as little as possible of this and I try to always be mindful of it’s addictiveness. But, I now use it without guilt. It causes insomnia, which is really awful when sleep is sometimes your only saving grace. Aside from that, I haven’t experienced any other side effects. While recently prescribed an extended release version of this med, I haven’t taken it. I had originally hoped to use the ER to have better, more consistent pain relief. What I ultimately decided was that I like the control of taking less Tramadol when I need it, on my good days. The ER eliminates that control. You also cannot use Oxycodone when taking it. For really bad days, I use Oxy. Which brings me to my next helper…..

2. Oxycodone: Obviously, a hard core pain reliever. I used to live in terror of becoming an addict. Then I realized, that Oxy brings me relief when sometimes nothing else can. I take this as infrequently as I can and every time I open the bottle, I mentally remind myself of it’s dangers. Bottom line: sometimes you just have to do what you have to do.

3. Fioricet: A migraine stopping pill. This is not preventative, it’s used when the migraine is already present or in it’s preliminary stages. Fioricet is a life changer. It typically stops my chronic migraines in one dose, although sometimes, it does take two. Caveat? You can only use two Fioricet doses, twice, in a seven day period. Knowing that, I typically walk around with a headache (I also suffer from Chronic Headaches, aside from Migraines) or a migraine until I can no longer handle the pain.

4. Flexeril: a muscle relaxer. It helps, alot, with the allover muscular body pain. Two added perks: It helps with the discomfort that can come with having sex (super important) and helps with the horrific pain associated with my period. While I was medically approved to take this on a regular basis, doing so eventually caused light headedness, dizziness, vertigo and even stranger? Hearing issues such as ear fullness and lessened hearing. So now, I only use it when I really need it.

5. Lidocaine patches: These work MUCH better than you would imagine. I find they are more useful for muscle pain and discomfort, as opposed to, the deep searing nerve pain. But, they WORK. I have not experienced any side effects from them, whatsoever.

6. DeepBlue rub, by DoTerra. I love this stuff. It’s similar to IcyHot or BenGay, but in my opinion, works better. I love that Essential Oils are the primary pain relievers in this rub. Added bonus? It’s not a prescription med and is unlikely to have negative side effects.

7. MGrain Essential Oil by Young Living: An Essential Oil mix. If you’ve ever experienced a migraine, you understand the brain crushing pain that one entails. Since I can only use Fioricet twice in seven days, I typically reach for this first. It actually works incredibly well in the initial stages of a migraine or for headaches.

8. Magnesium Cream: I use Frida Botanicals. This works remarkably well for relieving my Restless Limbs Syndrome. For me, RLS does not only cause jumping, it causes tremendous pain, almost like being electrically shocked by needles. Frida works to lessen and often eliminate this pain. I have not experienced any side effects from this cream, although others who use different magnesium cream have reported skin issues and itching.

I’m sure I’ve missed some medications I have tried. At one point, I was up to 21 prescriptions a day. At that point, I was sicker than ever and never knew what was worse, the conditions or the medication side effects. These days, I try my best to get by with the drugs I know my system can handle or with over the counter meds first.

Whatever your situation is, know that taking medicine does not make you weak and is not something to be ashamed of. Do what you need to do, in order to live your best life. I know I do.

Love, strength, hope and peace on painful days <3 Stacey

*Disclaimer*: Please remember that I am not a medical professional and anything I am writing is based upon my own personal experience. Please do not interpret any of this as medical advice or suggestions for your own treatment. Please always discuss with your doctor what treatments may be best for you.

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Fighting with Fibro and Living With Purpose. Mom, Wife, Blogger and animal lover. Fighting with Chronic Illness on a minute by minute basis; sometimes winning.

17 thoughts on “8 Effective Pain Relievers for Living with Chronic Pain

  1. I am glad you know what you are taking and why. Knowing what medication is supposed to do, and what is actually does to you can be two very different things. I would caution against anyone against bringing your medication list to their doctor and saying put me on these meds… When you have a chronic illness ‘start low and go slow!’ I thought your explanation of each medication and your safety measures were well written and are very well thought out! I am so glad this works for you and encourage you to keep sharing your experience!!! Great post, as usual! Thank you. xo~k.

    1. Thanks so much for the comments, Kim. Yup, very true. We trust our Doctors when they put us on medications (rightfully so) except different medications react differently for each person and a Doctor is not a Pharmacist. So while they know what drugs to prescribe and why, they cannot possibly know all of the side effects sometimes. Healthcare needs to be a collaborative, self-advocating, partnership with our Docs; they know medicine, we know our bodies. <3 Stacey

  2. Stacey,
    sorry you are suffering badly today. I have used the same medications with the exception of Klonopin and Modanifil. I was given Trazadone (an older anti depressant) to use for sleep many years ago. I was told it was ‘mild’ and would help me sleep better. It did, but like anything you become dependant on, your body eventually requires a higher dose for the same
    effect. Higher doses gave me morning sluggishness which when added onto the already crippling fatigue, was just not worth it. I finally changed primary doctors and she is on board with my desire to wean off of medications, and is helping by prescribing lower and lower doses over a period of time. I also weaned off Cymbalta recently that was prescribed for neuropathy pain, but I put myself back on the lowest dose of 20 mg. last week. I am in a really bad flare and having increased problems with dizziness on bad days or feeling ‘off balance’ on better days, so no driving here recently. Went back on thinking maybe coming off the Cymbalta too quick may be contributing to those issues.

    Sadly, over the last 30 yrs of this crap (and yes it has progressed to much worse over time) I have never really found anything that helps long term.

    1. I’m so sorry to hear about your recent struggles, Gail. I recently went 9 months without being able to drive, due to dizziness, vertigo and fainting spells. It’s really isolating and depressing to be trapped-I relate. I, too, came off the Cymbalta and until you mentioned it, I had forgotten how absolutely horrendous the detoxification process was. Severe panic attacks, anxiety, mental issues and flu like symptoms. Since Cymbalta is an anti-depressant, it has “re-wired” the brain. The withdrawals process has your brain reacclimate itself to normal and takes time. With some luck, maybe going back on and then tittering off more slowly will be helpful. I’m glad you found a new Doctor that is supportive and agreeable to your line of thinking. It’s tough-we feel so awful that sometimes it’s really hard to *not* be on meds. Once we get on them, often times they’re ineffective or have nasty side effects; which is just discouraging. Then the pattern repeats itself. 30 years is a long time. I have the utmost respect for that battle; especially given where Fibro was 30 years ago……
      Warm hugs Gail ~ Stacey

      1. Yeah, a fibro diagnosis 30 yrs. ago most often went with the label ‘hypochondriac’ or ‘hysterical female’ by most doctors. At least now it is an accepted bonafied disease with alot more known!

    1. You know…..I’ve thought about it. Have you used it? Did it help?
      I get frustrated with the copious amounts of money I spend on alternative therapies that never really seem to work.
      I just bought and will be returning a TENS Unit. It caused more pain than the pain I was trying to relieve, especially with the RLS.
      But still, I’m always trying to find something better than pharmaceuticals!!

  3. I’m currently on gabapentin (neurontin) for nerve pain. It’s not perfect, but my neurologist said my other options are Cymbalta and Lyrica, and I’m terrified of both. I’m very sensitive to medications, and if I can find something that doesn’t cause too many side effects (like the small dose of gabapentin I currently take), sometimes it’s easiest just to stick with it, even if it isn’t great.

    1. I agree, Lindsay. Sometimes it’s just easier to stick with what works, instead of trying 10 meds with horrible side effects. I have the same problem with being super sensitive to meds. Either that or they just don’t work. So I do the same thing as you-my Neurologist gets mad at me!

  4. Hi Stace
    Belbuca Film 600mcg is my go to pain med, tramadol for more quick acting relief. I use a topical pain reliever and take Lyrica. I also take way to many meds for my Bipolar illness that there is potetially some over lapping relief. Thanks for sharing. I’m hearing to many people live in pain because they don’t want to take pain meds…I don’t want to take them I have to take them. I’m not going thru life with more pain and disability. 🙂

    1. Hmmmm. I haven’t heard of Belbuca. Wow. I’ll have to look it up. Me too-I hear a lot of that, too. I used to feel the same way about not wanting to take meds and my Husband never takes anything. In the end, it’s the only way I have *any* quality of life. So I’m grateful to have them. For mental health, medicine can just be a Godsend. I think people are nervous because drugs are so stigmatized and then there is the whole “opiate crisis”-which, don’t get me started on that!!! It’s unfortunate and maddening that we have stigmas against using medication to enable us to live-it isn’t fair. Thanks for commenting, Melinda!!

      1. People who can’t control themselves should worry about taking addictive drugs, they need doctors who keep a short leash on them. That’s one reason we got here in the first place. I don’t know if Belbuca is new or not, I hadn’t heard of it. It’s a long term pain relief, we’re still working on right dose. Have a great day.

  5. I concur with the problems from most drugs I have been prescribed. Every medication has some degree of toxicity and many have such dangerous side effects. I have tried far more than can even remember over 25 years of fibromyalgia. I had begun to have more problems with the fibro about two years before I had a near fatal car accident. I was treated back then with far too many medications and changes were made almost every month for a year. It caused me to develop memory loss that truly scared me. To top it off, I got little help from any of the medications I was given. About a month after I had decided to stop all medications and had tapered off of most everything was when I had the accident. I still wonder if the meds had anything to do with the accident because I have no memory of it. I was 46 then and had damage from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet. There were many sites where I suffered extreme trauma. I believe it has caused the fibromyalgia to worsen and I now deal with chronic severe pain from the injuries that didn’t completely heal, the fibromyalgia and depression and PTSD I developed about a year after the accident. I also suffer from extreme fatigue and an autoimmune skin disease. I too have pain from adhesions and scar tissue. I am in bed the majority of the time now. Despite trying so many therapy methods and prescriptions I haven’t found anything that truly helps the pain much or any other problems I have. I was better at times over many years, but that seems to have almost stopped, with the majority of days truly awful.

    1. Oh Vguyette, reading your comments hurts my heart. I’m sending you a virtual hug, if that’s okay. Thank goodness you’re still with us, first of all. An accident like that must have been beyond terrifying. And I just don’t think we (people with Fibro) heal well. From what I’ve read, Fibro typically begins with a traumatic event. So if you were already struggling with it, I imagine that the accident could have worsened the Fibro significantly; causing you even more pain than the accident injuries and recovery.
      I’m so sorry you have so much continuous pain.. The treatment and medications for Fibro are significantly lacking. I am tremendously grateful that pain meds and opiates work for me, but I have not found any of the “preventative’ drugs helpful. And oh my goodness, I swear I had a black out with one of my migraine drugs. It was terrifying. I “woke up” in a four way intersection and couldn’t remember entering it. It was positively terrifying. So now I refuse any drugs in that classification. Personally, I don’t think that the significant and serious medication side effects are discussed thoroughly enough. We get desperate for any relief and end up going on meds, but their dangers aren’t appropriately covered and often times, we end up worse. So it’s a really tough place to be and involves some really personal, careful decision making on our parts. More often than not, I find I’m choosing between the lesser of two evils.
      It’s awful that the Fibro has progressed so much for you. I’m starting to hear of many people who become worse with age and that’s pretty terrifying. Especially when the medical community insists that it doesn’t worsen with age. We almost had to sell our house, at one point, because I was too disabled to climb the stairs. In 8 years, I’ve only experienced one remission, which was six months long. It was absolutely fantastic, but I found once the remission ended, mentally I really, really struggled. It was like tasting my old life and the old me, only to have it taken away again. So I’m sorry you’ve experienced that cycle too.
      I am SO happy to hear from you, Vguyette and I’m honored you decided to comment. I hope you will sign up to follow my Blog and that we will hear from you again.
      I’m sending you love, hope and strength.
      <3 Stace

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