Acute pain versus chronic pain

Understanding pain and its symptoms will help those living with chronic pain better equip themselves to improve their health and face the daily challenges of managing their pain.

Learning to live with pain is a part of life. However, it’s important to understand that pain is a personal, individual and subjective experience. This means that one person’s experience with pain may not be the same as another person’s. When looking at how to address pain, it’s helpful to know the differences between acute and chronic pain conditions.

According to Stanford School of Medicine’s Chronic Pain Self-Management Program all of us have experienced acute pain. Acute pain has an identifiable cause and goes away once healing takes place. Examples of acute pain include simple and more complex illnesses and/or injuries such as a sore throat, stubbed toe or surgery. Rest is often recommended for people dealing with acute pain so healing can take place, but once the pain and healing improves it’s usually okay to increase activity.

Chronic pain lasts longer than three to six months and exceeds what is considered a normal amount of time needed for healing and recovery. Chronic pain is often unpredictable and can affect multiple areas of the body. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, a person with chronic pain may have experienced an initial mishap like a sprained back, or can even have an ongoing cause of pain, such as arthritis. However, there are many people who suffer with chronic pain in the absence of any past injury or evidence of body damage. Older adults have the highest incidence of chronic pain. Activity balanced with rest is best for those experiencing chronic pain.

If you are suffering from any type pain that doesn’t go away, it’s important to contact a health professional. Your doctor can help determine if your pain is acute or chronic and provide you with treatment advice. Michigan State University Extension offers a workshop called Chronic Pain PATH (Personal Action Towards Health). This six week series provides the skills and tools needed to help people, living with chronic pain, improve their health and manage their pain.

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