Please note: this guideline has exceeded its review date and is currently under review by specialists. Exercise caution in the use of the clinical guideline.

Prescribing Notes for Acute Pain

For the management of pain in other situations, see Prescribing Notes for palliative care and persistent pain in older patients.

N.B.: If the patient's pain remains unresolved despite using the treatment guidance below, or local guidelines, then refer to the acute pain team for further advice.

Step 1: mild pain on movement


  • Is an effective analgesic for mild to moderate pain.
  • Improves the effect of other analgesics in the treatment of moderate to severe pain.

N.B. Do not use different routes of administration of paracetamol at the one time.

Paracetamol oral: 1g four times daily (max dose).

Consider dose reduction in patients with low body weight (<50kg), renal / hepatic impairment or glutathione deficiency (chronic malnourishment, chronic alcoholism) to 15mg/kg/dose up to four times daily (max 60mg/kg/day). An example is: paracetamol oral 500mg four times daily. In patients with hepatocellular insufficiency, a dose reduction of the oral preparation should be determined on a case by case basis with senior medical input. N.B. Patients with chronic liver failure may require a further dose adjustment (7.5mg/kg/dose, max 30mg/kg/day).

General Cautions:

  • Haematology / ICU patients where pyrexia of sepsis may be masked.
  • Hepatic failure (see below under each preparation).
  • Renal impairment (see under IV preparation below).
  • Low weight (see under IV preparation below).

Paracetamol IV

Use is restricted to certain clinical areas - refer to local policies.

Indication: Short-term treatment of moderate pain following surgery, and for the short-term treatment of fever, when administration by IV route is clinically justified. If used, change to oral route as soon as possible. There are prescribing restrictions with IV paracetamol - acquaint yourself with local practice before prescribing.

Dose: Varies - dependent on weight, renal function and other co-morbidities. See general cautions above, notes and dosing table below to determine dose.

Administration: Infuse ready-made solution over 15 minutes. For doses <1g, remove and discard excess drug / volume then administer required amount from vial.

Important notes for IV paracetamol:
  • Low weight (<50kg) or renal impairment (CrCl <30ml/minute) reduce dose using the table below.
  • Maximum daily dose of paracetamol IV must not exceed 3g per day in patients with:
    • Hepatocellular insufficiency
    • Chronic alcoholism
    • Chronic malnutrition (low reserves of hepatic glutathione)
    • Dehydration
  • In overdose, paracetamol IV may possibly be more toxic than the oral route. See (password required) for management.


Table 1 - IV Paracetamol dosing table

Patient Group Dose Dosage interval Maximum daily dose
Adults >50kg 1g up to four times daily 4 hours 4g
Adults 33-50kg 15mg/kg per administration 4 hours 60mg/kg without exceeding 3g
Adults >10-33kg Seek dosing advice from your clinical pharmacist or Medicines Information (see Appendix 6 for contact details).
Renal impairment with CrCl 10–30ml/minute* As above, depending on weight 6 hours As above, depending on weight

*If CrCl <10ml/minute recommend 500mg–1g every 6–8 hours.

Step 2: moderate pain on movement

Weak opioid analgesics for moderate pain

Co-codamol* oral 30/500mg 1 - 2 tablets four times daily (max 8 tablets in 24 hours) or

Codeine oral 30 - 60mg four times daily (max 240mg/day) or

Dihydrocodeine oral 30mg four times daily (max 120mg/day) (dihydrocodeine 60mg will provide little additional analgesia but more pronounced side effects) or

Tramadol oral 50 - 100mg four times daily.

General Cautions

  • *Co-codamol contains paracetamol. Certain patient groups e.g. older adults may require a dose reduction, see above.
  • Tramadol should not be used routinely. In particular it should not be used as breakthrough analgesia when patients are already prescribed Step 2 opioids.
  • Where possible co-prescribe a stimulant laxative.

Step 3: Severe pain

Use strong opioids e.g. morphine. Continue step 2 analgesia where possible plus morphine as required either orally or SC, or give morphine via PCA. Continue regular paracetamol (but not if already on other preparations containing paracetamol).

If pain is likely to persist or worsen consider stopping regular step 2 analgesia, stepping up to regular step 3 analgesia and referring to pain team if appropriate.

Table 2: Morphine oral - seek senior medical review if >6 doses are used in 24 hours or ≥3 doses used in a 4 hour period with little or no clinical benefit.

Age Initial Dose
≤70 years 10mg every 1 - 2 hours (regularly monitor / review sedation score and respiratory rate)
>70 years 5mg every 1 - 2 hours (regularly monitor / review sedation score and respiratory rate)

Table 3: Morphine IV - post-operative administration (for recovery and HDU areas only - see local guidelines)

Age Dose
<65 years 1–2mg at 5 minute intervals, up to a maximum of 10mg then reassess
65–80 years 1mg at 10 minute intervals
>80 years 0.5–1mg at 10 minute intervals

General notes on morphine

Oral Morphine:

  • Reduce morphine dose in the frail, elderly, those with low body weight and those with renal or hepatic impairment.
  • Morphine has active metabolites so use alternative opioids in patients with poor renal or hepatic function. Seek advice from clinical pharmacist, senior medical staff or acute pain team. 
  • Adding paracetamol and/or an NSAID can reduce opioid dose requirements and enhance analgesic effect of morphine.
  • Oral route if available is the route of choice. Titrate dose of morphine to response, monitor closely for over sedation and life-threatening respiratory depression. For further information refer to Reversal of Opioid-induced Respiratory Depression.
  • Co-prescribe a stimulant laxative (see Management of Constipation).
  • Observe for evidence of opioid toxicity. See below for guidance notes.
  • Patients with a history of post-operative nausea and vomiting (PONV) or who are at high risk may particularly benefit from prophylactic antiemetics (see Management of PONV).
  • Other Opioids - contact local acute pain team or pharmacy for further information on other opioids.

Parenteral morphine:

  • Use IV only to initiate analgesia in an acute situation, or as PCA. It should not be used as breakthrough analgesia and patients must be closely monitored during and after administration for over sedation and respiratory depression.
  • Consider oral morphine when parenteral morphine is discontinued.
  • For subcutaneous morphine (acute, pre- or post-operative pain) refer to local protocols.

IV to oral morphine equivalence

  • See flowchart above for information on opioid equivalence for acute pain patients including IV to oral morphine. Note: SC/IV dose is the same.
  • If in doubt / unsure regarding opioid equivalence please refer to local pain team for advice.

Opioid toxicity (seek advice)

  • Signs include:
    • Increased drowsiness/sedation
    • Vivid dreams/hallucinations/delirium
    • Muscle twitching/myclonus jerking
    • Abnormal skin sensitivity to touch
  • Treatment - reduce opioid by 1/3, ensure patient is well hydrated; review and re-titrate the analgesia. Consider adjuvant therapies and/or alternative Opioids. For naloxone guidance in other circumstances, see Reversal of Opioid-induced Respiratory Depression.
  • Caution - In renal and hepatic impairment seek dosing advice from your clinical pharmacist or senior member of medical staff.

Adjuvant (in acute pain): NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs)

Refer to NHSGGC 'Oral Non-steroidal Anti-inflammatory' guideline on NHSGGC StaffNet / Clinical Info / Clinical Guidelines Directory (link is only active if accessing via NHS computer) for more information, particularly around cautions and contraindications with NSAIDs.

  • Ibuprofen oral 400mg - 600mg three times daily. (Rarely will 800mg three times daily be required as there is very little additional benefit but an increase in gastrointestinal and cardiovascular side effects) or
  • Naproxen oral 250 - 500mg twice daily

If oral route not available:

  • Diclofenac rectal / IV 50mg three times daily. Diclofenac has a small, but significant increase in the risk of cardiovascular side effects compared with other NSAIDS, similar to the risks of the COX 2 inhibitors. Refer to MHRA alert from June 2013. Diclofenac is contraindicated in patients with established ischaemic heart disease, peripheral arterial disease, cerebrovascular disease, and congestive heart failure (New York Heart Association [NYHA] classification II-IV).

The patient's individual risk factors, including any history of cardiovascular disease should be taken into account. Adding NSAIDs can be beneficial and may reduce opioid requirements. They can be used at any step of the analgesic ladder.

Cautions with NSAIDs:

  • Age >65 years.
  • In patients taking warfarin or aspirin.
  • If patients are at risk of gastrointestinal mucosal damage (elderly, previous ulcer history, dyspepsia, serious co-morbidities also on concomitant medicines known to increase GI adverse effects including aspirin, anticoagulants, SSRIs and corticosteroids) but still need NSAIDs, prescribe gastric protection with a proton pump inhibitor:
    • omeprazole oral 20mg daily or
    • lansoprazole oral 15mg - 30mg daily.
  • Consider the patient's overall condition and concomitant medication e.g. hypovolaemia, hypotension, heart failure, other nephrotoxic medication.
  • Mild renal impairment or hepatic impairment.
  • NSAIDs may be associated with a small increased risk of thrombotic events, particularly when used in high doses and for long-term treatment. Use the lowest effective dose for the shortest period possible.

Avoid NSAIDs:

  • In patients with bleeding or past history of upper GI ulceration, aspirin-sensitive asthma, moderate to severe renal impairment.
  • In severe heart failure.
  • In severe hepatic impairment.


Content last updated June 2019.