Acute vs Chronic Pain: What's the Difference?
If you've come to us for a massage, you've already become familiar with our Intake Form's question on whether you experience acute or chronic pain. Unless you've experienced it personally or have been informed by your doctor, many might not know the difference between these definitions. Here we will articulate the difference and give you a few examples to deepen your understanding.
Acute Pain is pain that is evoked by a specific pain or instigator and can come and go quickly. It is usually a sharp pain which does not last longer than six months (typically shorter). Some examples of acute pain include surgery, broken bones, dental work, labor and childbirth, or burns and cuts.
Chronic Pain is ongoing pain that can persist longer than six months and which can continue even after an injury or illness has been treated. Pain persisting after the instigating injury has healed can be due to active pain signals in the nervous system. For some, these signals remain active weeks, months, or even years after the injury has been treated. Some examples of chronic pain include Fibromyalgia, nerve pain, back pain, headaches, arthritis, and others.
Acute and chronic pain can affect the individual's overall mood, patience, and tension in the body. Some individuals may try to compensate for the intense or ongoing pain in one part of their body by tensing up their muscles in another part of their body or by limiting their movement in attempt to minimize the pain. The intense or ongoing pain can also affect levels of joy or depression in a person, among other responses.
Why is this difference helpful to know with massage therapy? As with the other information our Intake Form gathers, this helps your massage therapist better understand which modality and massage approach to use for your specific needs. Of course knowing where the origins of your pain resides is important for any health practitioner, but understanding the nature of the pain is essential as well. For example, acute pain which can erupt with little to no agitation, will prompt how deep into the muscles your therapist works or if any specific cream or ointment is incorporated into your session. Chronic pain, which has been occurring in a client's body over a long period of time could indicate that the original injury has not been addressed or that the body is responding differently due to the previous injury. This may prompt that a different approach, or more often utilizing multiple practitioners such as massage therapy in addition to physical therapy or chiropractic sessions.
While acute pain may subside over time, chronic pain usually requires a shift in daily maintenance. Becoming aware of your body's new status post injury will increase your self-confidence and awareness of what your body is fully capable of. As you build upon this understanding, you bolster your awareness and are able to re-engage with your lively activities.
Cleveland Clinic (2020 December 12). Acute vs. Chronic Pain [blog post]. Retrieved from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/12051-acute-vs-chronic-pain#:~:text=Acute%20pain%20happens%20quickly%20and,or%20illness%20has%20been%20treated.
Meldrum, M. L. (2023). Pain. Encyclopaedia Britannica [encyclopedia article]. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/science/pain#ref122171
Syms, R. (2013 November 13). Massage and Chronic Pain [blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.amtamassage.org/publications/massage-therapy-journal/massage-chronic-pain/
WakeMed (2023). Trauma & Chronic Pain [blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.wakemed.org/care-and-services/emergency-care/trauma-centers/trauma-survivors-network/trauma-your-health/trauma-chronic-pain