There are many different types of pain in the world. You’ve probably experienced a few different kinds yourself, even if you don’t have a medical condition. For example, achy or sore muscles are common enough, but that’s a very different pain from stubbing your toe or breaking a bone.
You may have heard the terms acute pain and chronic pain used in the medical field. How do acute pain and chronic pain differ?
The differences between acute vs chronic pain are well-established in the medical literature, and these terms have specific meanings. Acute pain is usually the term used to describe pain associated with a direct cause, such as an injury, which lasts a short time. Chronic pain lasts much longer and may not have an identifiable source.
If you’re hoping to treat a pain condition, it helps if you understand the differences between these two types of pain.
Acute vs. Chronic Pain
The major difference between acute pain and chronic pain, as stated, is the length of time it lasts.
Generally speaking, most medical professionals define acute pain as lasting less than 12 weeks. It is usually associated with an injury or illness, and it often goes away with treatment and healing.
Chronic pain, by contrast, is pain that lasts longer than 12 weeks. It may or may not be associated with an injury or illness. It usually outlasts the treatment period of the initial injury or illness.
Neither term has one, single definition across the medical literature. Chronic pain isn’t particularly well understood either. Since the definition is rather vague, although well-established, what a doctor or other healthcare practitioner considers “chronic pain” may vary.
When Does Acute Pain Become Chronic Pain?
Acute pain can become chronic pain if it lasts more than 12 weeks. As mentioned above, acute pain often accompanies a medical condition, such as an injury or illness. If the pain associated with a condition lasts after the condition itself has been treated, it may be considered chronic pain.
Chronic pain affects millions of Canadians, and the numbers have been rising in recent years. Chronic pain may arise in cases when an injury causes nerve damage that cannot be healed. The initial injury itself may heal, but the pain lingers.
Chronic pain is also associated with a number of different medical diseases, such as fibromyalgia and other conditions.
Treating Acute Pain
Acute pain is often treated with strong painkillers over the course of a short period of time. Many of these medications have side effects, which is why it’s best to limit patients’ exposure to them.
Since acute pain is defined as lasting only a few weeks at most, using these medications poses a less serious risk than it does in cases of chronic pain.
Treating Chronic Pain
In a comparison of acute vs. chronic pain, treatment also differs significantly. While acute pain can be treated with strong medications, this isn’t usually advisable for cases of chronic pain.
Since chronic pain can last years or even decades, it should be managed by other means. In some cases, anti-depressants may be prescribed, such as when a spinal cord injury is involved.
In other cases, medical cannabis may be an excellent choice for people managing chronic pain.
Symptom Management and Quality of Life with Chronic Pain
When approaching acute vs. chronic pain, you must also consider management of the condition and quality of life.
Since chronic pain lasts for much longer periods and may never be fully healed, the focus is on managing the pain as best as possible. This means ensuring the patient can still enjoy some quality of life and a reduction of pain.
With the increase in the number of chronic pain cases, it’s important to find more effective ways to manage chronic pain. Medical cannabis could be one of those treatments.