The Difference Between Acute and Chronic Pain

The difference between acute and chronic pain may seem obvious, but there’s a lot more to defining pain than duration, though that does play a considerable role. 

At Comprehensive Pain Management, Drs. Do Chan and Boris Shwartzman have devoted their careers to helping patients overcome painful conditions of all kinds, whether it’s an acute problem in your back or ongoing issues with joint pain. When it comes to managing acute pain versus chronic pain, there are some similarities as well as some significant differences. 

Here’s a look at some of the differences between acute and chronic pain that dictate how we approach your treatment.

More than the numbers

The simple difference between acute and chronic pain is duration. Acute pain lasts for no more than 12 weeks, while chronic pain is defined as pain that lasts for more than 12 weeks.

Of course, these numbers aren’t written in stone, as it depends upon the underlying cause. If the problem is acute and identifiable, it typically means that there’s an end in sight when it comes to remedying the problem and your pain.

For example, a broken toe may give you a few weeks of trouble, but should heal quite nicely at the end, putting an end to your discomfort.

But if you fracture a major bone, such as your femur, it could take many months of healing — even up to a year or more — before you feel 100% again. Still, it can be argued that this type of pain is acute as there is a clear timeline.

Chronic pain, however, is a trickier target because of many reasons, including:

If any of these present hurdles right from the start, we typically view this problem as chronic, or one that has the potential to become chronic.

Addressing both chronic and acute pain

We understand that differentiating between chronic and acute pain may be a matter of semantics for you, as you simply want relief.

But distinguishing between the two dictates to some degree how we approach your pain. For example, if your pain is caused by a condition like sciatica, we provide you with the tools you need to weather the discomfort, which typically lasts for only a few weeks. These treatments may involve medications and physical therapy, as examples.

If you’re struggling with chronic pain that’s placing moderate-to-severe limitations on your quality of life, we turn to more aggressive techniques, such as:

The bottom line is that if you’re in pain, we have the resources you need to find meaningful and lasting relief. Simply contact one of our four locations in Attleboro or Franklin, Massachusetts, or South Kingstown or Warwick, Rhode Island, to get started.


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