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Difference Between Acute & Chronic Pain

Pain is a common experience that we have all felt at some point in our lives – whether it is the result of an injury, surgery, or underlying health condition. But not all pain is created equal. For some people, pain can become a lingering presence in their lives, lasting for weeks, months, or even years. So, how do you tell if your pain is acute or chronic? Let’s find out.

What is Acute Pain?

Acute pain is the kind of pain that happens suddenly and typically lasts for a short period of time. In most cases, acute pain is not serious and will go away within a few days or weeks once the underlying cause has healed. For example, if you cut your finger while cooking, you would likely experience a sudden onset of sharp pain that will last a few days. But once the cut has healed, the pain should go away. 

What is Chronic Pain?

Chronic pain is pain that lasts for more than 12 weeks. It can be caused by injury or illness, but it often persists long after the underlying injury or illness has healed. For example, someone who breaks their leg may initially experience severe acute pain. But once the fracture has healed, they may continue to experience dull pain or severe discomfort at the site of the original injury.

In addition to injury, chronic pain may also be caused by long-term conditions like arthritis, cancer, fibromyalgia, nerve damage, endometriosis, migraines, and mental illness. According to medical statistics, an estimated 1 in 5 American adults live with chronic pain.

Examples of chronic pain include:

  • Pain from an old injury
  • Arthritis pain/joint pain
  • Cancer pain
  • Fibromyalgia pain
  • Chronic migraines
  • Neuropathic pain
  • Chronic back pain

Unlike acute pain, chronic pain is often a constant presence and can lead to severe impairment. Chronic pain is often accompanied by other symptoms such as:

  • Fatigue
  • Sleep problems
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Reduced range of motion
  • Anger and irritability
  • Reduced productivity and loss of livelihood
  • Low sex drive
  • Suicidal ideations
  • Alcohol and substance abuse

Treatment for Acute VS Chronic Pain

Acute and chronic pain are treated differently because they have different causes. Acute pain is normally treated by addressing the underlying cause of the pain. Your doctor may also prescribe over-the-counter medication or prescription painkillers to keep the pain under control.

On the other hand, chronic pain is more difficult to treat because there is often no clear cause. Treatment typically aims to manage the pain and involves a combination of medication, physical therapy, self-care, and mental health support. Some people find relief from chronic pain through alternative therapies such as acupuncture or massage therapy. Others will require surgery to correct any underlying problems and provide relief from the pain.

The Takeaway

In a nutshell, the difference between acute and chronic pain is the duration of the pain. Acute pain is a normal response to an injury or illness and typically goes away within a few days or weeks. Chronic pain, on the other hand, persists for more months or years and can have a significant impact on your quality of life. 

If you’re experiencing chronic pain, it’s advisable to see a doctor who can diagnose the cause of your pain and develop a personalized treatment plan for you. 

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