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Chronic vs Acute Pain – Do Treatments Differ

Many articles on the Saratoga Spine blog discuss treatment options for various spine conditions. However, often these conditions can result in chronic or acute pain. Do the treatment options differ when the pain is chronic versus acute?

treatment differences in chronic vs acute pain

What’s the Difference Between Chronic and Acute Pain?

The main difference between chronic and acute pain is how long the pain lasts. Acute spinal pain typically goes away within three to six months. Chronic pain can come and go as well but lasts much longer. Chronic pain can last for years.

What Causes Chronic Spine Pain? What Causes Acute Spine Pain?

Interestingly, the same conditions can cause chronic and acute pain. For various reasons, the condition may lead to pain that goes away, or can lead to pain that comes and goes for years.

In addition, acute pain can transition to chronic pain. An example of this is when you get in an accident and experience pain for a few weeks that goes away. But, as you age, that area of your spine degrades, and the pain returns again and again. Your acute condition has turned into chronic pain.

Does the Treatment Approach Differ?

So how does the treatment approach differ between acute vs chronic pain?

Treatment plans can differ depending on if your pain is chronic or acute. For either type, doctors will probably attempt to treat the root cause of the pain. However, treatment for chronic pain may go much further.

The Interdisciplinary Approach to Chronic Pain Treatment

There is a growing belief that chronic pain is not only a biological phenomenon, but has biological, psychological, and social contributing factors. This new theory leads to a biopsychosocial approach to pain treatment.

While the biological factors influencing pain may be obvious the psychological and social factors may not be as clear. How is pain influenced by psychology or societal factors?

Psychological Factors

Research is being done to better understand how the mind affects pain interpretation. Consider phantom pains, where an individual feels pain in a limb that has been amputated. Does the mind have a role in this pain? There are still unknowns about how the mind and body interact. This interaction can play a role in chronic pain.

In a previous article on the blog we discussed the complicated relationship between chronic pain in depression. This is another way in which psychological factors can affect pain. Pain can be debilitating and result in the inability for an individual to perform daily tasks or participate in hobbies. This can lower the mood of the patient which, in turn, can lead to less involvement in activities, which can worsen the biological condition. This creates a downward spiral of sorts in which the depression and pain become closely related.

Social Factors of Chronic Pain

An individual’s environment can influence their body, and pain. Take work environment as an example. By now most of us are aware that workplace ergonomics can have a significant impact on an individual’s body. (ie: Sitting at a desk in front of a computer all day can lead to neck pain from forward head position.)

In addition, chronic pain may lead an individual to participate less at work or at home. This can cause stress between their coworkers or loved ones. This stress can further influence their state of mind and depression.

Treatment for Chronic Pain

The approach to treating chronic pain is often a multi-faceted approach due to the many potentially influencing factors. While the underlying condition is often treated, a treatment plan may also include activities not directly related to the cause of the pain.

Some examples of psychological treatment methods are psychotherapy, or activities such as yoga or meditation. An example of a treatment method geared toward social factors are evaluating impact of an individual’s job on their pain condition and making adjustments.

Treatments for acute pain often target the cause of the condition. In contrast, with chronic pain, doctors often try to get a better understanding of all the psychological and/or social situations that may be impacting the individual. Then, they may develop a treatment plan that aims to treat more aspects of the individual’s life.



*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