Chronic vs. Acute: How do you describe your pain?

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Pain is your body’s way of letting you know something’s wrong. The area of affected sends pain signals to the brain: We’ve been hit! Being able to describe your pain provides vital information for a doctor or physiotherapist to diagnose the problem, suggest a course of treatment and get you on the road to recovery.

But pain can be all consuming—where do you even begin?

The best place to start when defining your pain is whether it’s chronic or acute, which will help determine treatment.

What is chronic pain?

Woman having trouble sleepong.

Chronic pain is experienced over a long period of time, usually more than three to six months, beyond the time of expected recovery. Pain signals are still active in the nervous system. Headaches, joint pain, pain from old injuries, lower back pain—these are all common types of chronic pain. Arthritis also causes this type of continuing discomfort. Because it’s so persistent, chronic pain often takes a toll on the sufferer beyond the physical, affecting mental and emotional health. Sleep can be difficult. Stress can be high.

In Canada, studies show that almost 20% of people over 18 report suffering from chronic pain and one-half of those individuals say it’s been going on for more than 10 years.

How is chronic different from acute pain?

Man wearing ankle brace.

Acute pain describes something temporary, caused by an injury. A sprained ankle, for instance, produces acute pain. A doctor prescribes a brace or a boot to support the ankle as it heals. After four to six weeks, the ankle is mended, and the pain goes away.

Acute pain can become chronic pain if an injury isn’t treated or doesn’t heal properly.

How do I know if I have chronic pain?

Person holding their wrist in pain.

People suffering from chronic pain describe mild to severe pain that does not go away. It can include constant aches, shooting, throbbing, burning or electrical sensations. Discomfort often accompanies chronic pain, with sufferers identifying soreness, tightness or stiffness in the body. It can also bring fatigue, sleeplessness, stress, anxiety, mood changes, withdrawal from regular activity and a weakened immune system.

What are my treatment options?

Man receiving physiotherapy

After initial assessments, treatment plans from a doctor or physiotherapist may include pain relief and pain management strategies such as hands-on therapeutic exercises to help with movement and relaxation techniques to ease stress. It’s also important to identify any triggers for your pain and develop ways to manage or avoid them.

Using an interdisciplinary approach to chronic pain management, such as combining massage therapy, acupuncture, manual therapy and more, is one of the best ways to see maximum benefits. Research shows that pain managed by an interdisciplinary team results in a 14% to 60% reduction in chronic pain, with better results than conventional medical care.


Learn more about chronic pain management, and book your physiotherapy appointment today by clicking here!


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