Review Article

Recent advances in the pharmacological management of acute and chronic pain

Stephan A. Schug, Catherine Goddard


This review focuses on newer medications for the treatment of pain as well as on new guidelines and indications for the use of established medications. With regard to classical analgesics, the use of nonopioids and opioids is reviewed. Here are relevant new data on the use of the old substance acetaminophen as well as on non-selective non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and the newer COX-2 selective agents, which continue to be misunderstood. Amongst the opioids the new compound tapentadol with a new mechanism of action is presented as well as a number of new opioid preparations aiming to increase speed of onset of effect and to reduce abuse and diversion. Many medications, which were not originally developed to treat pain, are now used as components of multimodal analgesia or in specific indications. Here are of relevance anticonvulsants such as pregabalin and gabapentin, which were initially used for neuropathic pain, but are now used successfully in a wide range of indications from postoperative pain to fibromyalgia. The reason for this increased range of indications is the realization of the relevance of central sensitization processes for all pain states. Similarly, the use of antidepressants and the old dissociative anesthetic ketamine is increasing for the same reasons. Calcitonin has also found some new indications in difficult to treat pain conditions, while the discussion on the role of cannabinoids in pain management continues, partially driven by political issues. For localized neuropathic pain, there is increasing interest in topical preparations such as lidocaine and capsaicin patches, in particular in view of their minimal systemic adverse effects. Overall, recent advances in the pharmacological management of pain are not so much the result of new ‘miracle’ drugs, but new preparations and new ways to use old drugs in a variety of settings, often as components of a multimodal approach to pain relief.

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