Pain Management Guidelines (CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain)

Discover evidence-based Pain Management Guidelines designed to enhance patient care. Learn strategies for effectively diagnosing, treating, and managing acute and chronic pain.

By Joshua Napilay on Jul 15, 2024.


Fact Checked by RJ Gumban.

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What are Pain Management Guidelines?

Pain Management Guidelines are a systematic review of recommendations designed to assist in delivering effective care for patients experiencing chronic and acute pain. These guidelines are grounded in the latest scientific evidence and aim to enhance patient outcomes through clinical practice guidelines that provide clear, evidence-based strategies for assessing, diagnosing, and treating pain.

Its primary goal is to ensure patients receive effective and safe pain relief while addressing potential harms associated with pain treatments. These guidelines standardize care practices, promote best practices, and support clinical decision-making, ensuring patient safety and well-being.

The guidelines help evaluate patients’ pain through medical history, physical exams, and pain assessment tools. They recommend treatment options and guide initial opioid prescriptions, dosages, and treatment duration. It is crucial to initiate opioids carefully, evaluating individual benefits and risks before considering opioid therapy.

It assesses risks like opioid use disorder, using safety measures like PDMPs, and considering non-opioid alternatives. They emphasize patient education and shared decision-making. Pain management is ongoing, requiring regular follow-ups to adjust treatments and prevent harm.

Pain Management Guidelines (CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain) Template

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Pain Management Guidelines (CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain) Example

Download Example PDF

What types of pain do Pain Management Guidelines address?

Pain Management Guidelines address various types of pain to provide effective and safe pain treatment and strategies. These include:


Chronic pain is long-lasting pain that persists beyond the typical recovery period or occurs along with a chronic health condition, such as arthritis or fibromyalgia. Guidelines provide comprehensive approaches for managing chronic pain, focusing on both pharmacologic and non-pharmacologic treatments, and emphasize the importance of regular follow-ups and risk assessments to prevent opioid use disorder and other complications of opioid treatment.


Acute pain is short-term pain that typically arises suddenly due to injury, surgery, or an illness. Guidelines offer strategies for treating acute pain with the lowest effective dose of opioids, if necessary, and suggest alternative treatments to minimize opioid use and reduce the risk of dependence.

Related to specific conditions

Managing pain in patients with sickle cell disease requires tailored approaches due to the complexity and severity of their pain episodes. Guidelines recommend both immediate and long-term pain management strategies, incorporating both opioids and non-opioid therapies as appropriate.

For patients in end-of-life care, managing acute pain effectively is crucial to ensuring comfort and quality of end-of-life care. Guidelines suggest using opioids and other medications to manage severe pain, emphasizing compassionate care and patient comfort.


Pain resulting from minor or severe injuries is addressed by recommending appropriate analgesics, physical therapy, and other interventions. The guidelines stress careful consideration of opioid prescriptions to avoid potential misuse and ensure patient safety.

Common non-pharmacological interventions recommended in Pain Management Guidelines

Pain Management Guidelines emphasize the importance of non-pharmacological interventions as part of a comprehensive pain care approach. These interventions can effectively complement opioid therapy and help clinicians providing pain care address potential harms associated with opioids.

Physical therapy

Physical therapy is recommended for managing pain and improving function. It is particularly effective for injury prevention and rehabilitation. As part of the clinical practice guideline, physical therapy should be considered before initiating opioid therapy and can help reduce the need for prescribed opioids for pain alone.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)

CBT addresses the psychological aspects of chronic pain, too, helping patients develop coping strategies and improve their mental health. It can be integrated with pharmacological treatments to enhance overall pain management.

Acupuncture and massage

Acupuncture and massage are effective for pain relief and are recommended in clinical practice guidelines as alternatives to opioids for pain. These can be used to address pain without increasing dosages of opioids, thus reducing the risk of dependence and other harms.

Exercise and movement therapies

For patients with chronic low back pain, incorporating targeted exercise programs can significantly improve function and potentially reduce the need for opioid analgesics.

What role do healthcare providers play in implementing Pain Management Guidelines?

Healthcare providers are vital in implementing Pain Management Guidelines and ensuring patients receive safe and effective care. They play several roles in this process, including:

  • Perform thorough evaluations, including detailed medical histories, physical examinations, and risk assessments for opioid use disorder, to inform pain management strategies.
  • Inform patients about their pain treatment options, including the benefits and risks of opioid and non-opioid therapies, engage in shared decision-making, and ensure patients are actively involved in their care plans.
  • Incorporate alternative therapies, such as physical therapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy, to reduce reliance on opioids and enhance overall pain management.
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of pain treatments, address any emerging issues, and make necessary adjustments to prevent abrupt discontinuation and manage potential harms.
  • Use tools like Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs) to track opioid prescriptions, identify potential misuse, and ensure safe prescribing practices.
  • Work with pain specialists, pharmacists, physical therapists, and behavioral health professionals to provide coordinated, multidisciplinary care tailored to each patient's needs.

When is it appropriate to co-prescribe naloxone for a patient on opioid therapy?

Co-prescribing naloxone is appropriate for patients on opioid therapy under several circumstances to mitigate potential harm. According to the CDC Clinical Practice Guideline, naloxone should be considered for patients receiving opioids if they are at increased risk of opioid overdose. This consideration is especially relevant during the initial opioid prescription and when determining opioid dosages.

High-risk factors include a history of overdose, substance use disorder, higher opioid dosages, or concurrent benzodiazepine use. Offering naloxone during the initial prescription phase of prescribing opioids can be a preventive measure to address potential harm.

Long-term opioid use can increase the risk of overdose, making it essential to conduct follow-up evaluations and adjust treatment plans as needed. Regular follow-up appointments help in monitoring the patient's response to therapy and in making informed decisions about the necessity of co-prescribing naloxone.

Patients at increased risk, such as those with chronic respiratory conditions, renal or hepatic dysfunction, or those who have been prescribed high-dose opioids for chronic pain, should be prioritized for naloxone co-prescription. The Interagency Task Force on Best Practices for Pain Management recommends this practice to enhance patient safety and reduce opioid-related fatalities.

Clinical guidelines developed with peer reviewers emphasize the importance of flexibility and individualized care, avoiding inflexible standards that do not account for patient-specific factors. Co-prescribing naloxone is part of a comprehensive strategy to manage pain while addressing the potential risks associated with opioid therapy.

How should I manage patients who are on opioids and also require surgery or emergency care?

A study by Wilson et al. (2015), titled "Opioid Use among Same-Day Surgery Patients: Prevalence, Management, and Outcomes," highlights that opioid use is prevalent among surgical patients, particularly those undergoing orthopedic and neurosurgery procedures. The study found that 18.5% of same-day admission surgical patients were prescribed opioids, with 4.4% on long-acting opioids.

Managing acute pain in opioid-tolerant patients is complex and high-risk, necessitating comprehensive preoperative assessments, the continuation of usual opioid regimens, the addition of adjuvant non-opioid medications, the anticipation of higher opioid needs, the application of regional anesthesia, and intensive monitoring.

Despite expert recommendations, compliance in managing acute pain in opioid-tolerant surgical patients is often insufficient. The study observed that only 37% of long-acting opioid users took their usual dose preoperatively, and just 51-89% received adjuvant medications.

In emergency department settings, the focus should now be on optimizing opioid prescribing, incorporating patient perspectives, and ensuring access to buprenorphine and naloxone, as it is evident that many patients have been exposed to unnecessary opioid prescriptions. Regional anesthesia blocks can be a practical part of a multimodal strategy to reduce opioid requirements.

Factors that complicate pain management include cognitive impairment, chronic pain, substance abuse, neuropathic pain, and psychiatric comorbidities. A thorough biopsychosocial assessment is essential to guide optimal pain management by assessing these risks comprehensively.


Wilson, J. L., Poulin, P. A., Sikorski, R., Nathan, H. J., Taljaard, M., & Smyth, C. (2015). Opioid use among same-day surgery patients: Prevalence, management and outcomes. Pain Research and Management, 20(6), 300–304.

What are the general principles of pain management?
What are the general principles of pain management?

Commonly asked questions

What are the general principles of pain management?

The general principles include thoroughly assessing pain, using a multimodal approach, prescribing the lowest effective dose of pain medications, and regularly monitoring and adjusting treatments.

What are some common pain management strategies?

Common strategies include medication (opioid and non-opioid), physical therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), acupuncture, and lifestyle modifications like exercise and stress management.

How can pain management plans help people with chronic pain?

Pain management plans provide structured, individualized treatment approaches that can improve pain control, enhance function, and improve quality of life for those with chronic pain.

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