Acute vs Chronic Pain Overview
When it comes to pain and pain management, there are typically two types people often refer to; acute vs chronic pain. The most notable difference between these two types of pain is their cause. Acute pain typically stems from a very obvious injury or event, and will often subside when there is no longer a cause for the pain.
Chronic pain is more convoluted and is not so easy to understand. It often arises due to underlying conditions that can often be triggered by the onset of acute pain. While any amount of pain is both uncomfortable and unwanted, it is important to understand the difference between the two, and by doing so, understand when seeking medical attention may be necessary.
Acute pain is typically sudden and brought about by some type of injury or event such as muscle strain or a broken bone. It is characteristically sharp in its quality and will heal over time as the injury heals. Another hallmark of acute pain is its duration. Many doctors and physicians can determine the difference between acute vs chronic pain by the amount of time a person has had a specific pain. Acute pain can last as long as six months but usually will subside sooner.
Types of acute pain can include:
- Traumatic pain: broken bones, burns, cuts, etc.
- Surgical pain: pain stemming from recent surgery, typically felt during the recovery process
- Muscle strain: Injuries from sporting events or physical activity
Treatments for acute pain can range anywhere from over-the-counter drugs such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen to physical therapy or exercise. For more serious acute pains, such as traumatic pains from broken bones or surgery may require more intensive treatments or therapies.
Chronic pain is classified as an ongoing pain that lasts longer than six months. These conditions are generally caused by an underlying condition, often something that cannot be easily treated by surgery, but can be caused by injuries that either has not healed properly or are continuously re-injured. It’s estimated that nearly one out of every five adults in the United States suffers from some sort of chronic pain, and of those nearly 65 million people, 6 million are said to have ‘high-impact‘ chronic pain (persistent pain with substantial restriction of life activities).
Understanding the cause of chronic pain can be difficult, but there are some signs that pain may be, or may become, chronic. First, take note of the duration of the pain. While chronic pain is generally diagnosed when the pain has persisted for six months or longer, pain lasting over three can be an early warning that pain may be more than just a one-time injury. Chronic pain is often resistant to certain treatments that can alleviate otherwise normal pains, such as over-the-counter drugs and normal physical therapy.
Common types of chronic pain can include:
- Nerve damage
- Lower back pain
- Headaches or migraines
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
If pain has become persistent, seek medical advice, as the root cause of the pain may be something more serious. Chronic pains are often hard to self-diagnose, and as a result, are regularly misdiagnosed. Ignoring potentially chronic pains can be detrimental to one’s health, as they may worsen over time without proper treatment. The most important thing to do is listen to the body. If pain is recurring, resistant to straightforward treatments, and lasts longer than six months, it may be time to contact a physician to learn about treatment options.
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