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Acute vs Chronic Pain, What’s the Difference?

You may have heard your doctor mention acute vs chronic pain, but what do they mean by it? What really are the differences between acute pain and chronic pain?

acute vs chronic pain what is acute pain and chronic pain and what's the difference

Acute Pain

Acute pain can have causes such as trauma, disease, or surgery. Pain symptoms can include increased heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate, discomfort, facial grimacing, and agitation.

The accepted diagnosis from the North American Nursing Diagnosis Association further defines acute pain as pain which has an anticipated end and is expected to last less than 6 months.

For example, if you cut your finger, the pain associated with the cut and stitches, should they be required, would be considered acute. This is because it’s expected that you’ll experience pain but after the tissue heals, the pain is expected to go away.

Chronic Pain

Like acute pain, chronic pain can related to cancer, trauma, a result of surgery, disease or other underlying cause. But, unlike acute pain, chronic pain may be “without an anticipated or predictable end” as per the North American Nursing Diagnosis Association.

The International Association of Pain defines chronic pain slightly differently. They say pain is chronic when it “lasts or recurs for more than 3 months”.

Acute vs. Chronic Pain

Now that we understand the two types of pain let’s take a closer look at acute vs. chronic pain and how the two compare.

Acute Pain Chronic Pain
How Long Does it Last? Pain is expected to go away within 3-6 months and not return Pain can come and go but lasts more than 3-6 months
Potential Causes Trauma, Disease, Surgery, Inflammation, Cancer Trauma, Disease, Surgery, Inflammation, Cancer
Typical Treatments Treat the underlying cause Treatment involves multi-disciplinary approach

The Transition from Acute to Chronic Pain

We’ve been talking about acute pain and chronic pain as if they are two completely unrelated things. But, that’s not always the case. When a condition first develops the individual may present with acute pain.

However, if the injury or condition persists, the pain may transition to chronic pain. You may already be aware of this as this transition is common for individuals with spine problems. If you’re reading the Saratoga Spine blog you’ve perhaps had problems with neck pain or back pain in the past. The first time the pain subsided but then has returned, on and off, since the beginning. You may be experiencing chronic back pain or chronic neck pain. Common treatment methods for these types of chronic pain usually involve a multi-disciplinary approach. One approach may include NSAID’s, physical therapy and changes to your posture.

If you have acute or chronic pain of the neck or back and think it’s time to see a doctor, give Saratoga Spine a call to set up an appointment.



*Please Note: Information on this site or any recommended sites should not be used as a diagnosis or a substitute for talking with your doctor. Always talk with your doctor about diagnosis and treatment information.
Blue Distinction Center for Spine Surgery