The Differences Between Acute Pain and Chronic Pain


When it comes to your pain, there are two different types of pain: acute and chronic. All pain is uncomfortable, unwanted, and unpleasant. 

No matter the type of pain, it can range from mild to severe and all pain has the ability to reduce your quality of life and prevent you from living the life you deserve. 

The main difference between acute and chronic pain is that acute pain typically has a specific, treatable cause. Chronic pain is not so easily diagnosed because it can be rooted in underlying, “invisible” causes. 

Acute Pain

Acute pain is a sudden, sharp pain that lasts less than 6 months. Acute pain acts as a warning to your body that it is unsafe and its health has been compromised. A common belief is that acute pain is mild and temporary. But in fact, acute pain is very complex. 

This type of pain is caused by something specific - a broken bone, burns or cuts, or even labor and childbirth. The pain goes away once the affect area has been treated. Some acute pain is temporary and short-lived. Other times, it can have a longer-lasting effect and cause severe pain. 

Therapy for acute pain treats the cause of the pain. However, it can be tricky to diagnose because the symptoms can be start and stop without warning. The pain does not last all day and night, and can produce symptoms that last a few days, a few seconds, or even just a few seconds. 

Doctors use the Wong-Baker FACES pain rating scale (below) and have their patients rate their pain on a scale from 1 to 10. This helps the doctor learn about the pain levels and allows them to better assess the situation.  

Other test doctors use may include: 

Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is an ongoing pain that last longer than 6 months. This pain is considered a disease state and affects 1 out of 5 American adults. Chronic pain is hard to diagnose and can be misdiagnosed. 

Chronic pain is caused by an underlying issue, something surgery may not be able to heal. Pain patients may undergo a variety of treatments to find one, or a combination of many, that helps reduce their pain. 

Many types of chronic pain are headaches, arthritis, cancer, nerve pain, back pain, and fibromyalgia. Pain is different for everyone, especially chronic pain. Because of this, treatment options for chronic pain vary and can include everything from a topical cream to surgery. 

Oral medications and creams or ointments, such as over-the-counter anti-inflammatories, pain relievers, and creams help reduce pain on a daily basis, but are not meant for long-term use. Treatments without medication like physical therapy is proven to help patients with chronic pain reduce pain, increase quality of living, while minimizing medication dosages. Other treatments include acupuncture and TENS stimulation. TENS units are external pads that provide stimulation around the area of pain and help reduce pain. 

Patients who suffer from severe chronic pain are candidates for injections. The injections are a mixture of an anesthetic and steroid that is injected in the area of pain to help alleviate the pain. 

Chronic pain reduces a person’s ability to live their lives the same quality and extent that they enjoy. Knowing your options and treatment availability is important to maintaining the lifestyle you deserve and to keep you doing the things you love.

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