Opioids are Meant to Improve Function

  • When you are handed a prescription for medication, you need to know what the medication is supposed to do. Is the medication going to cure you? Is it going to manage a chronic condition? Or is it meant to prevent problems from happening in the first place? When a prescription for pain medications is handed to you, do you really understand what the medication is going to do for you? Your first thought about the purpose of pain relievers is that pain medication will help you lead a pain-free life. With that expectation in mind, you will be disappointed to realize that being pain-free is difficult to achieve without completely anesthetizing you. Simply reducing the pain intensity is a better goal; however, the doctor might have a different goal in mind when handing the prescription to you. Prescription pain relievers are really meant to improve your function.

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    Some of you might have heard the term “improve function” before, others may not have. In either case, this term has serious implication when it comes to documenting treatment outcomes and justifying the use of pain relievers. Of course pain relief is to be expected when taking pain relievers, but the manner in which this pain relief impacts your life is even more important. The term “function” is a broad term that incorporates everything that you do. In other words, what you do is how you function in life at home, at work, and at play.


    At home, your doctor wants to know what you are able to do now that you were not able to do before you started using pain medications. Are you able to do all of your activities of daily living (ADL’s) like dressing, bathing, and toileting? The ADL’s are really a representation of the most basic human functioning necessary for living independently. Measuring one’s ability to do ADL’s helps to predict admissions to nursing homes, health care costs, and mortality. The ADL tasks are the first level of functioning that is expected to be achieved by relieving pain. The next level of functioning at home is more advanced ADL’s such as laundry, cooking, and cleaning. For example, many people with low back pain are not able to do laundry prior to using pain medication. With the use of medications that reduce the pain intensity levels, the laundry is more likely to get done. This improvement in function is an important milestone to document in medical records in order to explain why the medications are working and are necessary. Once function has improved at home, other life activities might also become more tolerable.


    At work, your doctor wants to know what you are able to now that you were not able to do before you started using pain medications. Were you able to go back to work as a result of using pain medications? Are you back to working full time? Are you able to accomplish all the tasks at work? Or maybe you are volunteering in the community now that your pain has been relieved. All of these work-related activities help to justify the continued use of opioid medication despite the consequences of long-term use.


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    Working is not the only way to see pain relief in action. Improved tolerance of playing is an equally important goal for pain relieving medication use too. Many people like you stop doing things they enjoy doing because the pain is intolerable. People stop hobbies, sporting activities, and recreating. Returning to these activities of enjoyment is an extremely important treatment goal for pain management. Tell your doctor if you are back the enjoying life now that you are using pain medications.


    Documenting all of these improvements in function will help develop your treatment plan, define goals, and justify the use of pain medications. A simple goal of pain relief is really not enough. Reducing your pain level from an 8 to a 4 is not enough. A goal of improved function is the best, most tangible measure of how the pain relievers are impacting your life. A couple of ways you can help document your progress. First, try keeping an activity journal at least initially in your treatment plan. Next, use an activity tracker like a step monitoring device or app to help you log your steps per day, per week, and per month. If you are seeing gradual improvements in how much you are doing, then you are on the right track. The opioid medications are doing what they are meant to do if they are improving your function.

Published On: February 08, 2014