If you are dealing with pain, one of the first things your doctor might ask is, “Is it acute vs. chronic pain?” These two terms are often used to categorize pain, so you can learn why it is happening and how to treat it. However, many people do not know how to answer this question because labeling symptoms can be harder when it is happening to you. Figuring out the difference between acute vs. chronic pain makes it easier to get the help you need.
What Is Acute vs. Chronic Pain?
Before getting further into recognizing chronic pain and signs of acute pain, it is helpful to explain the actual medical definitions of these words. Acute pain, vs. chronic pain, is a pain with a characteristic sharp quality. It usually happens suddenly, and while it is present, the pain is severe enough to make it hard for people to move around, do daily tasks, or even breathe. Acute pain almost always has a specific cause, like a broken bone or a burn. Once the cause is healed, the acute pain will go away.
Chronic pain is a term doctors use to refer to pain that lasts six or more months. Chronic pain can linger long after the initial cause has gone away. Sometimes, it is caused by chronic health conditions like arthritis that are not curable. It can even develop without any initial cause being present in the first place. For some people, chronic pain is still quite intense. However, others may experience as more a dull, throbbing pain. The key defining factor of chronic pain is its consistency. It may go away, but it typically comes back.
How to Identify Acute Pain vs. Chronic Pain
The most basic way of recognizing chronic pain and acute pain is to ask yourself, “How long has my pain lasted?” Anything over six months is automatically going to be chronic pain. However, it can still be chronic pain if you have not reached the six-month mark yet. Therefore, you should consider your health and think about whether you have any specific conditions that may cause pain at the moment. Unlike chronic pain, acute pain typically has a clearly defined and treatable cause. Another way to recognize signs of acute pain is to think about how the pain feels. Acute pain is more likely to feel like sharp, stabbing, burning, searing, or cramping pain.
What Are the Differences in Treatment?
Once your pain is identified, you can begin looking at ways to manage it. If it is caused by a specific health condition, your doctor may recommend treatments for that problem. While you wait to heal, your doctor may suggest over-the-counter or prescription pain medications. Since chronic pain lasts so long, treating it is a little harder. Many common painkillers can become dangerous when taken repeatedly for months on end. Therefore, it may be wise to look into other treatment options. Some people find that options like electrical stimulation, acupuncture, or capsaicin creams can help with chronic pain. If the chronic pain is due to nerve compression or other health conditions, surgery or physical therapy may help. Some people may need counseling to deal with the mental effects of chronic pain.
If you or someone you know is dealing with pain of any type, Encore Health Group can help. Our pain management clinics in TN can provide temporary relief for acute pain, or we can discuss long-term ways of dealing with chronic pain. There are a variety of different treatments we provide, ranging from medication to physical therapy and alternative medications.