Difference Between Acute Pain and Chronic Pain

Pain is the standard reaction of the nervous system in most animals, including humans, to stimuli that may cause actual or perceived harm to the body. When a person feels pain, it is an indicator that something is wrong and corrective action should be taken at the earliest possible opportunity. Everyone experiences pain at some point in his or her life, and each individual perceives pain in a unique manner. However, instances of pain can be classified into one of two types: acute pain or chronic pain.

Acute Pain

Acute pain has a sudden onset and can be very surprising when it occurs. This type of pain is limited to a specific area of the body, and its point of origin can be clearly identified. Acute pain serves as a warning that the body has been or will soon become damaged.

The length of acute pain may range from a fraction of a second to several months, but it rarely lasts for longer than six months at a time. The length depends on the presence of the threat to the body, and the sensation subsides when the underlying cause has been removed or treated.

A few typical causes of acute pain are as follows:

  • Cuts, pokes and burns
  • Broken bones
  • Surgery
  • Impacted teeth

Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is a generalized, persistent type of pain that may linger long after the underlying cause has healed or been treated. Chronic pain occurs when signals continue to run through the nervous system, and it may be felt for several weeks, several months or even several years.

Most instances of chronic pain originate from trauma, infection or other bodily injuries. In some cases, however, people may experience chronic pain without any evidence of injury. As a whole, chronic pain is less understood by the medical community than acute pain is.

headache-chronic-painIn addition to the sensation, chronic pain may produce a number of other physical and psychological effects, such as fatigue, muscle tension, loss of energy, anxiety and depression. The following are common examples of chronic pain:

  • Headache
  • Back pain
  • Arthritis
  • Pain from damaged nerves
  • Psychogenic, or phantom, pain

Pain Treatment

Both acute and chronic pain may be treated similarly. The major factor in pain treatment is severity, but the cause and length of the pain may also play a role. Treatments for pain include over-the-counter and prescription drugs, physical therapy, surgery and psychological counseling.


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