What is the Difference Between Acute and Chronic Pain?

Dan Cavallari
Dan Cavallari
Proper pain treatment and management can be challenging, especially in cases involving chronic pain.
Proper pain treatment and management can be challenging, especially in cases involving chronic pain.

In a very general sense, acute and chronic pain differ in the amount of time the pain lasts. This is too simple of a definition, however, as the line between acute and chronic pain is often blurred. Acute pain usually starts suddenly. It very often manifests itself as a sharp pain, though this is not always the case. Acute pain can be an indicator of an underlying problem, and it usually goes away once that problem has been addressed. Chronic pain will linger after an injury heals, and it may remain for weeks, months, or even years. Acute and chronic pain can be related, as acute pain may lead to chronic pain.

Injuries are one of the more common causes of acute pain, though illnesses or diseases can also be a cause. When acute pain occurs, a sufferer is likely to look for the cause of the pain for treatment. This may require a trip to a doctor. If the cause of the pain is treated, the acute pain will often go away, though it can linger for quite some time. In some cases, acute pain can last up to six months or more, which can make distinguishing between acute and chronic pain difficult. Generally speaking, if the pain goes away shortly after the cause of the pain is treated, it is acute pain. If it lingers for more than six months or a year, it is considered to be chronic pain.

Chronic pain may be the result of an injury that did not heal correctly, a disease or illness that cannot be cured, or a daily habit that perpetuates the cause of the pain. Arthritis, for example, is a condition that cannot be cured and may lead to chronic pain. The sufferer may be in constant pain, or the pain may recur repeatedly over time. Cancer, too, can cause chronic pain, especially if the cancer cannot be treated or removed. Chronic pain may also lead to other health issues; it may cause muscles to tense, or it may cause an alteration in normal body movements as well as nerve pain.

Both acute and chronic pain can be managed if it cannot be treated, usually with medication as well as preventative measures such as regular stretching and exercise, a healthy diet, and altered daily routines to prevent pain. The treatment depends significantly on the cause of the pain, and very often chronic pain will require a doctor's visit for a proper diagnosis.

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    • Proper pain treatment and management can be challenging, especially in cases involving chronic pain.
      By: Alliance
      Proper pain treatment and management can be challenging, especially in cases involving chronic pain.