If you’re dealing with pain, you may have heard the terms ‘acute’ and ‘chronic’ thrown around. But what do these terms mean, and how do they affect your treatment? We tend to call any unpleasant sensation that follows an injury "pain," more often physical than mental, but it does apply to both. At its most basic level, pain is a defence mechanism for the body to put you out of harm’s way. Identifying the difference between acute and chronic pain could help determine the treatment you need.
Get to know your pain
In this article, we’ll be discussing the critical differences between acute and chronic pain. We’ll also explain how understanding their differences can help you get the most out of your treatment.
Acute pain is pain that comes on suddenly and doesn’t last longer than six months. It’s usually the result of an injury or illness and is treated with medications such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen. You can also treat acute pain with physical therapy, hot and cold treatments, or lifestyle changes such as exercise and stretching.
These sensations characterise acute pain:
On the other hand, chronic pain can occur without a clear cause or a chronic health issue and can last a very long time. Meanwhile, chronic pain is often associated with sometimes debilitating symptoms, including:
- Limited mobility
- Changes in appetite
- Lack of energy
Chronic pain, on the other hand, is defined as pain that lasts longer than six months. It’s usually caused by a long-term illness or injury and can often be challenging to treat. Common treatments for chronic pain include medications such as opioids, nerve blocks, physical therapy, lifestyle changes, and/or psychological therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy.
One key difference between acute and chronic pain is the duration. Acute pain is short-term and usually fades away once the injury or illness has been treated, while chronic pain can last for months or even years. This is why it’s essential to determine if your pain is acute or chronic, as treatments for the two types of pain can differ significantly.
Most acute pain dissipates with time or with treatment. For example, a cut heals with ointment. A bruise disappears with time. There are options from medications to surgery designed to limit the duration of acute pain so you can get back to feeling normal. Chronic pain, by definition, is not easy to treat.
In some cases, the pain comes and goes. Chronic pain can sometimes alter your nervous system, making it more sensitive to pain. As a result, painful sensations might feel more severe and last longer.
Another critical difference between the two types of pain is the intensity. Acute pain is usually more intense and can come on suddenly, while chronic pain tends to be a dull ache that may worsen over time.
Suppose you cannot treat chronic pain in situations where the pain is a symptom of another condition, such as arthritis. In that case, the object of interventions is not to treat but to manage pain over time. Chronic pain management can include pain relievers and other medications, acupuncture, biofeedback, relaxation training, hypnosis, distraction techniques, and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation.
Need help with pain?
Whether your pain is acute or, you suspect, chronic, speak with your GP. Your doctor is the best place to start when it comes to pain treatment and management. If you have questions about pain treatments or management options, contact Naluri’s Medical Advisors via the Naluri App.