What Happens When Pain Becomes Chronic?


July 21, 2021


The truth is that pain is usually the body’s way of alerting you that something is wrong. It usually occurs when pain signals are transmitted through nerve fibers to the brain for interpretation.

Although the experience of pain varies for every person, there is no denying that living with pain can be highly frustrating and overwhelming. This is because it makes it difficult for you to carry out your daily activities and socially interact.

That said, it is essential to note that pain can either be short-term or long-term. Similarly, the pain may result from a specific event, or it may slowly develop over time due to a medical condition.

In addition, pain is usually categorized into two main sections; acute pain and chronic pain. One of the questions most of us often grapple with is whether acute pain can become chronic pain, and when it does, what should we do?

Read on to find out the answer to this question and so much more.

What Is Acute Pain?

Put simply, acute pain is short-term pain that usually results from an injured or damaged body tissue. For instance, the pain sensation you usually experience after a sudden accident, such as when you fall or break a bone, is acute pain.

According to experts, the severity of acute pain usually depends on the extent of tissue damage. Therefore, the more the injury heals, the more the pain subsides. Some of the common symptoms of acute pain include:

  • Numbness in the injured area.
  • Body weakness.
  • A sharp, throbbing pain.
  • A burning sensation.
  • Tingling.

That said, some of the following reasons may cause acute pain:

  • Menstrual cramps.
  • Getting burned.
  • Giving birth.
  • When your body bumps against a hard surface.
  • Dental procedures.
  • When you cut yourself.

Types of acute pain

According to researchers, there are three different types of acute pain:

  • Visceral pain: This is the type of acute pain that originates from internal organs in the body.
  • Somatic pain: It is characterized by superficial pain on the skin.
  • Referred pain: This is the kind of pain that occurs at a location that isn’t the source of tissue damage. For instance, heart attack patients usually experience shoulder pain

What Is Chronic Pain?

Chronic pain is the type of pain that persists for up to three months. It is usually more severe than acute pain and usually has no cure. According to the CDC, chronic pain affects up to 50 million U.S. adults. This shows how widespread and severe this condition is.

Similarly, a recent report states that chronic pain is among the leading causes of disability. In addition, according to researchers, multiple physical and mental conditions are usually caused by chronic pain.

That said, besides the intense and persistent pain, other symptoms of chronic pain include:

  • Depression and anxiety.
  • Constant irritability.
  • Poor sleep.
  • Extreme fatigue.

What Causes Chronic Pain?

The truth is that doctors and other experts haven’t quite discovered the exact cause of chronic pain. However, this type of pain often develops as a result of certain health conditions:

Moving from Acute to Chronic Pain

In comparison, chronic pain is generally more complex and severe than acute pain. Although it’s not always the case, experts agree that there are instances where acute pain gradually develops into chronic pain.

One of the biggest tell-tale signs that your pain has moved from the acute stage to the chronic phase is when the pain persists even after the injury is healed. According to various reviews, acute pain normally lasts for four weeks or less.

Therefore, if you notice that your pain is persisting for longer than this duration, this is an obvious sign that it has transitioned into the chronic pain stage. What causes this transition? Various reports suggest that acute pain becomes chronic when continuous nerve stimulation leads to a series of altered pain pathways. Consequently, this leads to an impaired Central Nervous System (CNS). 

According to a recent review, some of the risk factors associated with the transition from acute to chronic pain include:

  • Genetic factors: Certain genes increase a person’s risk of experiencing this transition.
  • Psychological factors: Such as anxiety and catastrophizing ( a situation where people only focus on the worst possible outcome).
  • A previous history of chronic pain elsewhere in the body.
  • Early life stress and trauma.
  • Poor sleep.
  • When you fail to exercise after experiencing acute pain.

How to Prevent the Transition from Acute to Chronic pain

Firstly, it is fundamental to note that there are usually no guarantees when it comes to medical matters. However, medical researchers suggest that it is possible to prevent the development of chronic pain by adhering to various lifestyle changes, such as:

  • Managing your stress.
  • Getting proper medical treatment for acute pain.
  • Countering fatigue by developing a healthy sleeping pattern.
  • Developing a healthy lifestyle characterized by frequent exercising and eating healthily.

Bottom Line

If you or your loved one is experiencing acute pain, you should be careful to ensure that it doesn’t transition to the chronic pain stage. However, if this happens, we at Southeast Pain and Spine Care will offer you the ideal solution. From the vast pool of treatment options that we offer, you can be sure that you will receive nothing but the very best. Therefore, book an appointment with us today!