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Pain is inherently associated with unpleasantness, but even though that is the case, pain is necessary to keep us healthy. Sounds like an epigram, doesn't it? Let me explain. Pain is a non-verbal indication from our body that something is wrong with it. May be we are overworking ourselves, or our body just needs a break. On any normal day, in the absence of pain, we wouldn't check for our vital signs. Like at the onset of flu, if our body didn't ache and neither did our head, we wouldn't specifically check our temperature for no reason, right? Only when we get some sort of a signal from our body, is our attention drawn to it, and we tend to our health. So, if we didn't experience pain, we wouldn't know the extent of our injuries. We'd keep on working till our muscles and joints were so exhausted, that they gave up. Which means that, pain is necessary for us to remain in good health!

Pain can be of various types, like phantom, neuropathic, psychogenic, etc., but broadly it is classified as acute and chronic. The basic difference is that acute pain is short-term, while chronic pain is long-term. So, when acute pain persists for a long duration of time, then it is said to be chronic. There are a few other differences between them. What the differences are between these two types of pain, is what this article will tell you. It will discuss the causes, symptoms, and the physical and psychological effects of both these types of pain. Read the rest of the article to have your doubts solved.

Difference Between Acute and Chronic Pain

Acute Pain
Acute pain can last anywhere between a few moments to a few months. This type of pain can last for a maximum of 5-6 months. If it persists for more than 6 months, then it can be termed chronic.

Causes of Acute Pain
  • Injury/Trauma
  • Cuts and Burns
  • Toothaches/Stomachaches/Headaches
  • Accidents
  • Broken bones/ligaments/tendons
  • Sudden movements
  • Jerky actions while lifting heavy objects
  • Surgery
  • Temporary illness
  • Conditions like labor during childbirth, appendicitis, tissue damage, etc.
Symptoms of Acute Pain
  • Shooting pain
  • Burning sensation with pain
  • Sharp pain, like poking of pins
  • Niggling ache in a body part
  • Cramps in muscles
  • Sensation of painful pressure on a body part
Effects of Pain
Acute pain almost never has any long-term psychological effects, other than wariness of the object or thing that has caused the pain for the first time. But it does have a few short-term physical effects as follows:
  • Sharp pain in the organ/body part that is hurt
  • Temporary inability to effectively use the body part, thus restricting movements/mobility
  • Mild or extreme physical and/or mental discomfort/distress while the pain lasts
  • Swelling, bruising, inflammation, etc., of the part that is hurt
Treatment and Cure
The treatments for acute pain include the following:
  • Analgesics
  • Hot/Cold Treatment
  • R.I.C.E., i.e., Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation
  • Opioids
  • Acupuncture, CBT, i.e., Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • NSAIDs, i.e., Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Traction (in case of back injuries in accidents or post surgery)
  • Exercising, breathing and relaxation techniques, massages, etc.

Chronic Pain
Chronic pain is a kind of pain that lasts for more than 6-8 months after an injury or accident or after starting suddenly/inexplicably without a specific cause. Environmental and psychological factors also affect chronic pain.

Causes of Chronic Pain
The causes include some of the causes of acute pain, and some other causes as well. Chronic pain can also have unknown causes, which are difficult to determine, congenital causes or sometimes no real cause. Most of the causes are listed below:
  • Injury/Trauma
  • Accidents
  • Broken bones/ligaments/tendons
  • Surgery
  • Nerve damage
  • Spinal injuries/conditions
  • Pain due to cancer, arthritis, AIDS, multiple sclerosis, etc.
  • Long drawn out illnesses and serious diseases
  • Poor posture, wearing high heels all the time, improper sleeping positions, etc.
  • Curvature of the spine, aging of the spine, being overweight, etc.
  • Psychological problems like depression.
  • Fibromyalgia
Symptoms of Chronic Pain
A few general symptoms are as follows:
  • Effect on sleeping pattern because of the pain, leading to insomnia
  • Negative effect on social life, making one unable to enjoy everyday activities or go out frequently
  • Frequent blackouts due to pain, blurred vision, nausea, headaches, irregular bowel movements, etc.
  • Decreased concentration and coordination, increased irritability and 'low' phases in mood
  • Pain that persists in spite of medication
  • Pain getting aggravated when one's stress and anxiety levels rise
Effects of Pain
The physical effects:
  • Sleeplessness and fatigue
  • Weakened immune system
  • Loss of concentration and coordination
  • Disability
The psychological effects:
  • Increasing irritability, hopelessness, and stress
  • Mood swings and extreme frustration due to prolonged and mostly ineffective treatments
  • Withdrawal from physical activities and social events
  • Depression, fear, and anxiety
Treatment and Cure
Relief from chronic pain can be obtained by the following methods:
  • Acupuncture
  • Nerve blocks
  • Surgery/Laser Treatment/Laser Surgery
  • CBT, i.e., Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Electrical stimulation, which may include intracerebral stimulation, spinal cord stimulation, nerve stimulation, etc.
  • Alternative treatments like hypnosis, psychotherapy, behavior modification, etc.
  • Magnetic therapy, radiation therapy, etc.
  • Biofeedback, traction and physical therapy

Identifying and treating the pain, be it acute or chronic, is very important for the long-term mental and physical health of any individual. Even if one thinks that the pain is not too much, it is always safer and better to get it treated than let the pain go away on its own, because sometimes, the cause may subside for a while instead of being cured, which makes the pain stop. But when it is aggravated in any way, it will cause as much or more pain than the first time. Hence, it is best to treat the cause, so that the chances of it recurring are comparatively reduced or altogether eliminated.