Pain and discomfort shouldn’t be so hard to decipher. You can easily start narrowing down the possible sources because all pain falls under two main categories: acute and chronic. Being able to distinguish acute pain vs chronic pain will guide you towards the proper treatment and pain management. Read on to understand what these pains are and how you should approach them.
What is Acute Pain?
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This refers to the type of pain that lasts for no more than 6 months. Directly caused by a single traumatic event, the pain is typically sharp and abrupt by nature. And it should go away once you successfully address the main cause.
For those reasons, acute pain is actually the more common type of pain. And at some point, you’ve likely encountered it in one form or another.
Common examples of acute pain
Specific traumatic events that cause acute pain include traumatic accidents, excessive physical exertion, medical conditions, and medical procedures. To give you a better picture, here’s some of what happens to your body after such events:
- Muscle soreness and fatigue – anything from mildly tender to tight and burning, they’re early signs of overuse. This usually comes from poor posture or overexertion, and it causes strains and tension. It’s also common to see some swelling in the affected area.
- Muscle and ligament injuries – varying degrees of tissue tear can lead to partial or complete loss of function in the affected area. Often caused by traumatic accidents, its main sources include cuts, punctures, blunt force, and overstretching.
- Broken bones – acute pain due to fractured bones is another direct result of traumatic accidents. Symptoms also include bruises, swelling, inability to use the affected area, and visible deformity.
- Pinched or damaged nerves – this results from pressure from muscles, bones, connective tissues, and even external objects. That said, nerve pain can even indicate underlying injuries/conditions. This pain can also come with numbness and tingling.
Acute pain may be temporary, but that doesn’t mean it can be ignored. The right treatment would depend on the extent of the damage. But when carried out as intended, it should eliminate the pain altogether.
- R.I.C.E. – Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. Your first line of defense against sudden pains can be done at home, and virtually anywhere else. This follows a simple strategy of isolating the source of pain and controlling inflammation.
- NSAIDs and other painkillers – over-the-counter medications are also available to help you power through certain pains. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are popular for muscle and joint pains, while acetaminophen covers headaches, menstrual pains, toothaches, and the like.
- Topical analgesics – painkillers also come in gels and creams. Mainly for muscle and joint pains, these products are applied directly on the skin above the affected area. They provide soothing sensations and relief from soreness, inflammation, and even irritation.
- Massage therapy – Swedish massage and deep tissue massage often come to mind for resolving muscle fatigue. But massage therapy also has approaches that help treat injuries and joint problems. When booking a massage therapist isn’t possible, a massage gun is equally capable for most quick fixes.
- Surgery – Serious injuries like muscle/ligament tears and bone fractures would require invasive procedures to repair the damage.
What is Chronic Pain?
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Pain that persists beyond 6 months is classified as chronic pain, and it’s usually caused by an underlying condition. Untreated acute pain can also lead to such conditions. But sometimes, certain conditions can lay undetected until they manifest as pain. This is why chronic pain can be much harder to diagnose and cure.
Common examples of chronic pain
Long-term pains and discomfort can significantly impact your overall quality of life. Not only can the pain itself intensify, the stress it brings may also cause depression, anger, anxiety, and sleeplessness.
- Muscle and joint conditions – painful joints and the inability to use the affected limbs are common signs of overuse injuries and osteoarthritis. Fibromyalgia, on the other hand, inflicts arthritis-like symptoms upon your muscles (rather than the joints). It’s believed to be triggered by traumatic events, genetics, or chemical imbalances.
- Bone conditions – osteoporosis and spine conditions like Degenerative Disc Disease can also cause severe lower back pain when walking or standing. Scoliosis and slipped disks can also put excess pressure on your spinal cord and nearby nerves. This leads to persistent pain, tingling and numbness.
- Illness – serious ailments like cancer, tumors, and organ disease only progress as they remain unchecked. Their signs wouldn’t be easy to ignore, as they often come with severe and persistent pain in the affected areas. The affected organs would also have trouble functioning normally.
Acute pain treatments like massage therapy and prescribed painkillers can bring temporary pain relief. But addressing the underlying condition is the only way to truly get rid of the problem. This would need a very specific combination of prescribed treatments, such as:
- Painkiller injections – these are available for severe chronic pain sufferers in particular. Unlike NSAIDs, these contain a potent mix of steroids and anaesthetics. This can be administered through the spine or straight into the sore muscle.
- Surgery – smaller cancer growths, tumors, and heavily damaged tissue can all be removed through surgery. It can also help correct deformities like scoliosis, and even replace worn-out joints altogether.
- Psychotherapy and neurotherapy – in cases like Fibromyalgia, a neurologist or psychologist may be involved to help with the erratic pain perception. This is usually the case if the condition was triggered by psychological trauma.
- Drug treatments and other advanced procedures – common examples include chemotherapy for widespread cancer and dialysis for end stage kidney failure. These can be seen as drastic measures to combat the effects of serious illnesses.
Acute Pain vs Chronic Pain – What to look out for
Save precious time when trying to figure out what your pain could mean. Here’s a quick summary of how to tell them apart:
While many sources of pain are beyond your control, you can significantly cut down your risk with good habits.
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Eating mindfully will give you the right nutrients to protect your body from overuse injuries and illnesses. The key to stronger muscles and bones is getting enough protein, calcium, and vitamin D.
It’s also important to regulate intake of alcohol, fats, and other substances that are potentially dangerous in large amounts. This list could get longer and more specific depending on age and medical history.
Good exercise routine
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Getting enough physical activity will help you develop stronger muscles and a better posture. Both of these things will help you avoid injury in your day to day activities. It will also improve your overall health, keeping serious illnesses at bay.
Likewise, you should also know your limits with your workload. This is to avoid excessive muscle wear and traumatic injuries.
Proper treatment and medical advice
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This underpins the last two points we discussed. Not only should you treat your pains with care, you should also get the necessary help when needed. Consulting with your doctor will ultimately inform the lifestyle adjustments you will need to deal with your specific condition.
The sources of acute pain are often obvious enough, while chronic pain can be something that’s unexpectedly complex. That said, your mindfulness shouldn’t stop at differentiating these two.
The real end goal is to narrow down the possible causes of your pain and seek proper treatment before it’s too late. And remember, if your pain feels too uncertain or out of your control, don’t hesitate to consult your doctor.
Do you often find yourself dealing with those pesky aches in your day-to-day life? A professional-grade massage gun can offer you a quick and easy solution at home or on the go.
- Understanding Post Workout Muscle Soreness: When Is It Too Much?
- Muscle Injuries
- Bone Fractures
- Deep Tissue vs Swedish Massage: Which Is Better For Muscle Soreness?
- The Difference Between the Types of Pain: Acute vs. Chronic
- Everything you need to know about fibromyalgia
- Fibromyalgia – Causes
- Everything You Should Know About Degenerative Disc Disease (DDD)
- 7 foods that are good for your bones and joints