The Difference Between Acute and Chronic Pain

Feb 1, 2022

We’ve all experienced pain at some point in our lives. As part of your body’s “defense” system, pain is a natural, built-in signal that lets your body know something’s wrong. 

Today, there are plenty of options for treating pain and relieving uncomfortable symptoms. But before treatment begins, your doctor will need to determine if your pain is chronic or acute.

At Pacific Pain and Regenerative MedicineHasan Badday, MD, offers pain management solutions for both types of pain — acute and chronic — to patients at his practices in Irvine, Marina del Rey, and Los Angeles, California. Here’s how to tell which type of pain is bothering you.

Acute pain vs. chronic pain

When you’re in pain, you probably don’t much care about whether it’s acute or chronic. But knowing the type of pain you have helps determine the underlying cause, along with the best course of treatment.

Acute pain

Acute pain usually happens right after (or shortly after) an injuring event, like a fall, car accident, or sports injury. Some common causes of acute pain include:

  • Surgery
  • Fractures
  • Impact injuries
  • Childbirth
  • Burns
  • Insect stings
  • Cuts
  • Dental work

Usually, acute pain comes on suddenly, typically resolving once the event is over or the injury is treated. Most acute pain is sharp, and it usually responds well to treatments like pain medication. 

Acute pain treatment works fairly rapidly, within a matter of minutes, hours, or days. For more severe injuries or tissue damage, like car accidents or surgery, it may take a few weeks to feel better.

Chronic pain

Chronic pain is ongoing or recurrent, lasting for six months or more. It may feel sharp or dull, and it frequently interferes with normal daily activities. One out of every five American adults suffers from chronic pain, according to a survey from the CDC, and of those, about 7.4% have pain that limits activities on a regular basis. 

Common causes of chronic pain include:

  • Arthritis
  • Cancer
  • Many types of back pain
  • Neuralgia and nerve issues
  • Degenerative or age-related conditions

Chronic pain may start suddenly, but more often it builds over time. 

Some types of chronic pain, like fibromyalgia, may be triggered by an injury, but the pain continues long after the injury is treated. Other times, chronic pain happens even without a precipitating injury.

Because chronic pain is ongoing and affects many aspects of your life, it’s often associated with high levels of stress and feelings of depression, anxiety, and irritability. Chronic pain may interfere with your sleep or your appetite. If it prevents you from working, it can take a toll on your finances too.

Find relief for your pain

Pain is your body’s way of communicating its needs to you. Whether your pain is acute or chronic, a medical evaluation is the best way to find the right treatment and prevent your symptoms from getting worse. To schedule an evaluation with Dr. Badday, call the Pacific Pain and Regenerative Medicine office nearest you or book an appointment online today.

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