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Acute vs Chronic

It is generally recognized that pain can be considered either acute or chronic.1

Acute pain is the type of pain that comes on suddenly, in response to an injury. Acute pain is the most common type of pain people experience. Fortunately, it is self-limiting in that it usually decreases in severity over time and the pain itself will eventually go away when the injury heals.1,2

Some common causes of acute pain include:3,4
• Surgery
• Work-related injury
• Trauma such as an accident, a broken bone, a sprain,
or a cut
• Acute illness such as appendicitis
• Medical procedure such as immunization or endoscopy

Acute pain does serve a very important purpose; it warns us that damage may have or has occurred.1,2

Chronic pain persists over a longer period of time (3 months or more).2 Chronic pain is a very common condition affecting anywhere from 2% to 40% of the adult population. At any given point in time, it is estimated that approximately 15% of adults will be suffering from chronic pain.5

Chronic pain may be:4
• Neuropathic, meaning it affects the nerves
• The result of an injury
• Due to a malignant condition such as cancer
• Due to a non-life threatening condition such as fibromyalgia or arthritis

Unlike acute pain, chronic pain is a disease in and of itself. This means the condition – chronic pain - is the cause of the pain.1,2 1. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Pain: Hope through research. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/chronic_pain/detail_chronic_pain.htm#175033084, accessed June 8, 2012.
2. Canadian Pain Coalition. Is all pain the same? http://www.canadianpaincoalition.ca/index.php/en/help-centre/conquering-pain/all-pain-the-same, accessed June 8, 2012.
3. Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. Committee on Advancing Pain Research, Care, and Education Board on Health Sciences Policy. Relieving Pain in America: A Blueprint for Transforming Prevention, Care, Education and Research. The National Academies Press, Washington, DC. http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=13172, accessed July 10, 2012.
4. American Pain Society. Education. Enduring material. Pain: Current Understanding of Assessment, Management, and Treatments. http://www.ampainsoc.org/education/enduring/downloads/npc/npc.pdf, accessed July 10, 2012.
5. Manchikanti L, Singh V, Datta S, et al. Comprehensive review of epidemiology, scope, and impact of spinal pain. Pain Physician 2009; 12:E35-E70.