Acute and chronic painHumans are programmed to believe that pain is normal- everyone experiences pain, right? Pain is an unavoidable part of life. It affects our well-being, is complex, and can rob us from the ability to execute even the simplest tasks on a day-to-day basis. While pain is subjective, it can be difficult to distinguish the difference between acute and chronic pain.

What is considered acute Pain?

Acute pain is typically defined as pain which lasts six months and under. It may be mild and short-lived or severe and longer lasting. The onset of pain may appear suddenly and out of nowhere. It is a symptom of an injury or inflamed or diseased tissue; common examples include broken bones, burns, cuts and surgery. The source of pain can be easily found and once the underlying cause is identified and treated, it will dissipate.

What is chronic pain?

Chronic pain is generally defined as any pain that lasts six months or longer or pain that continues to occur even after the source has been treated and healed. It is viewed as a disease rather than a symptom of a health issue and can usually be attributed to an underlying condition. Sometimes, however, chronic pain may occur despite the fact that the individual has never suffered any injury or after an injury hasn’t healed.

There are two types of chronic pain- pain from an identifiable source, such as an injury, and pain from an unidentified source, such as a healed injury. If the pain is attributed from an unexplained source, it is often referred to as “chronic benign” pain.

Chronic pain may be attributed from diseases such as arthritis, fibromyalgia and cancer. It is estimated that tens of millions of Americans suffer from chronic pain. It may be extremely frustrating and emotionally draining for the individual, as it may have no foreseen endpoint.

What are the symptoms of chronic pain?

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, you may be suffering from chronic pain:

  • Sleeplessness
  • A compromised immune system
  • Disability
  • Fatigue
  • Shooting, burning, or aching pain

When should you seek medical attention?

Given its subjective nature and the fact that everyone has a different threshold for pain, there is no specific rule as to when medical attention should be sought but rather guidelines. If your pain is intolerable, seek help. If your pain lingers after the source has been identified and treated, or has been apparent for more than six months, it is best to seek medical attention. The longer the pain continues untreated, the more likely it will turn into chronic pain. Additionally, when pain goes untreated for an extended period of time, there is greater potential for damage to occur to your nerve receptors; this in turn can affect and cause changes in the spinal cord and brain, negatively altering the way you perceive pain.

Chronic pain is best treated through a multidisciplinary approach. It is most effective to get treatment for the underlying cause and then separately treat the pain itself. There are several non-surgical treatment options to explore which include, but are not limited to, the following: physical therapy, spinal decompression systems, acupuncture, nerve blocks, electrical stimulations, injections and medications.

If your pain is chronic and persistent, it is best to seek the medical attention of a pain specialist. Physiatrists are medical doctors whom specialize in non-surgical pain relief from conditions affecting your muscles, ligaments, nerves, tendons and bones.  After an initial consultation to identify the underlying cause of pain, a personalized treatment plan will be devised to manage your pain. If you’re experiencing pain, schedule a consultation with us and together we can explore your pain management options to help increase your ability to function and get you feeling your best. Pain should not dictate your life, regain control.