How is Acute Pain Different from Chronic Pain?


April 26, 2019

When it comes to categorizing your pain, there are two different types: 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. It acts as a warning to your body that it is not safe and its health has been compromised. A common belief is that acute pain is mild and temporary; but in fact, it is very complex.

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

Therapy for acute pain treats the cause of the pain. However, it can be tricky to diagnose because the symptoms canstart and stop without warning. The pain does not last all day and night, and can produce symptoms that last a few days, a few minutes, 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 understand pain levels and allows them to assess the situation.

wong baker faces

Other tests doctors use may include:

  • Blood work
  • Imaging (MRIs, CT scans and X-rays)
  • Dye-injection studies
  • Nerve Conduction studies

Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is an ongoing pain that lasts 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 sometimes 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 determine one specific treatment, or a combination of many, that helps reduce their pain.

Types of chronic paininclude 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 and pain relievershelp reduce pain on a daily basis, but are not meant for long-term use. Treatments without medication like physical therapy are proven to help chronic pain patients reduce their pain and increase their 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 discomfort.

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

  • Trigger Point Injections – These injections help relax and soothe tense muscles that are inflamed and painful.
  • Facet Joint Injections – These injections help inflamed joints in the spine. The steroid helps reduce pain and joint soreness.
  • Epidural Injections – This kind of injection is a strong anti-inflammatory that reduces pain around the spinal cord.

Chronic pain reduces a person’s ability to live their lives life to the same quality and extent that they enjoy. Knowing whattreatment optionsare is important to in order to help maintain the lifestyle you deserve and to keep you doing the things that you love.