Last reviewed 01/2018

Analgesia means literally without pain. In medicine it is used to describe the methods used to reduce pain without the loss of consciousness, most frequently drug-related. However, a variety of techniques can be used to relieve pain:

  • prevention, e.g. pre-emptive analgesia
  • treat primary cause, e.g. surgery
  • inhibit the peripheral generation of pain signals, e.g. NSAIDs
  • inhibit peripheral neural transmission, e.g. local anaesthetic
  • stimulate inhibitory mechanisms in the spinal cord, e.g. acupuncture
  • inhibit ascending transmission in the spinal cord, e.g. anterolateral cordotomy
  • stimulate supraspinal inhibitory pathways, e.g. opioids
  • change the emotional content of pain, e.g. psychotropic drugs
  • alter behavioural response to pain, e.g. conditioning

Broadly speaking analgesic drugs may be subdivided according to their strengths into mild, moderate and potent.