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The Difference Between Acute Pain and Chronic Pain

Updated: Nov 16, 2017

Not all pain is the same. When doctors discuss acute pain and chronic pain, what does that actually mean?



Pain can be described as being more than just an extremely unpleasant physical feeling. People who are experiencing pain somewhere in their body will often share that there are mental, psychological, and emotional aspects to their pain as well. Pain can be categorized in different ways. One common way that doctors classify pain is into the categories of acute pain and chronic pain. Today I thought I’d share a little bit about each type of pain.


Acute Pain: Acute pain is usually sharp, severe pain caused by something easily recognizable (i.e. you sprained your ankle, you burned your thumb, or you just your wisdom teeth removed). Acute pain usually lasts for a specific period of time, and then as your body heals, the pain goes away. Conventional medicine is very good at handling this type of pain.


Chronic Pain: Chronic pain is less understood by the medical community because it involves lasting pain that doesn’t respond well to medication. Chronic pain occurs when the body’s sensory receptors that normally detect tissue damage (called nociceptors) keep sending pain signals to the brain, even when there is no tissue damage or very little tissue damage. In effect, the brain keeps being bombarded by pain signals for days, weeks, months, and even years for no apparent reason. Chronic pain has more of a psychological element. People who struggle with chronic pain can become frustrated, anxious or depressed about their situation.


The good news is that alternative therapies and treatments offered by doctors of chiropractic, massage therapists, and doctors of acupuncture and Oriental medicine offer relief to many people with chronic pain.

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