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Pain is a physical or emotional sensory experience that most people will experience in their lifetime. It may be acute (short term) or chronic (longer term) and can range from mild to severe. For people in hospice or palliative care, pain management is important. Pain can affect a person’s quality of life and emotional well-being. Learn more about pain and symptom management in palliative care and hospice care.


To understand pain management, it is helpful to first define what pain is and how it works. Pain is a signal passed along by nerve cells in the body. These cells can send pain signals to your brain through your spinal cord. These signals are your body’s way of telling you that something is wrong.

Pain can be either acute or chronic. Short-term pain from an injury or illness is called acute pain. Acute pain can last for several weeks. When the injury or illness has healed, acute pain generally stops. If the pain continues, then it becomes chronic.

Estimates of the number of Americans who cope with chronic pain range from 50 million to 116 million. Chronic pain can develop from injuries, surgery, or dozens of medical conditions. Some causes of chronic pain include the following:

  • After an injury or surgery, nerve fibers can change so they no longer function properly.
  • Certain areas of the brain can change over time, so the brain creates its own pain signals.
  • An ongoing medical condition, such as rheumatoid arthritis, can continue to cause pain for some people.
  • Pain may happen as a result of cancer, cancer treatment, or both.

For people in hospice or palliative care, pain management is important. One reason is that pain can affect a person’s quality of life. Individuals in hospice care may experience depression or anxiety from pain caused by a terminal illness. The goal for hospice care and palliative care is to make you as comfortable as possible while managing your pain.

While in palliative care or hospice care, nurses and doctors will monitor your pain by conducting regular pain assessments. Your pain will be treated right away with anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen or with other pain medicine.

Pain medicine can be given in several ways while you are in hospice or palliative, including:

  • Orally (swallowed)
  • By injection (a shot)
  • Intravenously (also called IV, meaning through a vein)
  • Using a medicine pump attached to your body

Things to Know

Chronic pain can affect many areas of your life. It can make you feel angry or depressed. If you are in palliative care or hospice, it is important to talk to your doctor about your pain and develop a plan to help manage your symptoms.