How Do You Know If Your Pain Is Acute or Chronic?

Acute vs. Chronic Pain

Pain is a common complaint encountered by healthcare practitioners, with pain-related issues accounting for up to 80% of physician visits. In the United States, pain is a leading public health issue that places an enormous burden on the economy, costing upwards of $630 billion each year. In this post, we’ll take a look at what pain is, and identify the differences between acute and chronic pain.

What is Pain?

Pain is defined as an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience, associated with a tissue damage or potential or described in terms of such damage”. Typically, pain is a signal that something is wrong in the body, so you shouldn’t ignore it.

chronic pain

Classification of Pain

Pain is classified as either acute or chronic in nature.

Acute Pain

Acute pain is pain that lasts less than 3 months. Acute pain typically appears suddenly and has a specific cause. Acute pain subsides, and the individual is able to return to normal functioning, when the underlying issue is addressed.

Common causes of acute pain include:
• Fractures
• Post-surgical pain
• Sprains and strains
• Burns, cuts, and abrasions
• Labor and childbirth.

Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is pain that persists for longer than 3 months, that may continue after the underlying injury or illness has been addressed. This is because the pain signals in the body remain active for a prolonged period of time.

The effects of chronic pain go beyond the sensation of pain, and include muscle spasm, decreased range of motion, decreased strength, fatigue, and appetite changes. Chronic pain can even affect mental health and lead to depression, anxiety and irritability. These effects can severely impact an individual’s ability to function normally and negatively affect their quality of life.

Chronic pain may arise from an injury, such as a back sprain or strain, or may be due to a prolonged illness, however, in some cases no underlying cause may be identified.

Common chronic pain conditions include:
• Headache
• Cancer
• Arthritis
• Back pain
• Fibromyalgia pain
• Nerve pain


Everyone experiences pain differently, which is what makes pain such a subjective experience. There is no definitive test that can measure an individual’s pain level and locate the area of pain. Therefore, it’s important that you keep track of your pain so that you can describe the location, type, and timing of your symptoms to your physician so that they can try to determine the underlying cause of your pain and help you get relief from your symptoms.


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