Acute v Chronic Pain: Differences and Treatments

We all know pain is subjective, and varies in severity and longevity. The type of pain you might experience with a headache, sunburn, getting an ear infection or breaking a bone all hurt in different ways, but are usually easy to identify and can be treated and resolved reasonably quickly. But what would it feel like if that pain didn’t go away?

Given its subjective nature, pain is largely categorised by the duration of time it lasts, and is considered either acute or chronic pain.

What are the differences between acute v chronic pain?

‘Acute’ pain is short-term, usually lasting anywhere between a few days up to a few weeks. It can occur after an injury or surgery, where the repair of damaged tissue or bone acts as a warning to the body to seek help, resulting in acute pain. Although most pain improves as the body heals, in some cases – it doesn’t.

Pain that persists for three months or longer past the initial pain experience, is considered ‘chronic’ pain. Unlike acute pain, chronic pain may continue beyond the point of healing (ie. 3 months). Chronic pain is reported as Australia’s third most expensive health problem1, with figures estimating 1 in 5 Australians will experience chronic pain during their lives1. Chronic pain can come in the form of headaches, arthritis, nerve pain, or pain in different areas (such as back, legs, shoulder or neck).

How can acute and chronic pain be treated?

Treatment of acute v chronic pain can use similar methods, but treatment for chronic pain is ongoing, whereas treatment for acute pain generally helps to resolve it quickly. To treat any pain, it should be assessed first by a GP or pharmacist, who can discuss an approach suited to the pain. Depending on the pain and its severity, common treatment for acute pain can include:

  • Applying heat or ice
  • Compression
  • Resting or elevating affected area
  • Anti-inflamatory medication (such as diclofenac, ibuprofen or naproxen)
  • Oral and topical therapies (such as paracetamol, throat lozengers or heat rubs)
  • Muscle relaxant treatments
  • Physiotherapy
  • Massage
  • Exercise

Chronic pain can be a more complicated issue to treat, due to its ongoing nature. Most health professionals will recommend the best way to manage chronic pain is through holistic or multidisciplinary treatment options – or in other words, a medicated and non-medicated approach. Along with the treatments listed for acute pain (which can also be used to treat chronic pain, and visa versa), a person experiencing chronic pain could also consider:

  • Antidepressants (if prescribed by a GP or psychiatrist)
  • Bioelectric therapy (using local electrical stimulation to moderate pain)
  • Mind-based exercises (such as cognitive behavioural therapy, biofeedback and mindfulness)
  • Mind-body approaches (such as muscle relaxation, laughter, hypnosis and meditation)
  • Yoga or pilates

With different treatment options available and professionals trained in pain management, nobody should suffer acute or chronic pain alone. At TerryWhite Chemmart, we are your partners in pain relief and are here to help. Speak to one of our friendly pharmacists today about booking a pain medication review, and what you can do to better manage any pain you are experiencing. Pain Medication Reviews can be completed in person, over the phone, or via Telehealth (video). Book today by calling your local TerryWhite Chemmart or online by clicking here.

General advice only – this information should not replace the information provided to you by your health care professional. If symptoms are severe or persist, please speak to your health care professional. Information current as of date of publishing.

Always check with your pharmacist or medical professional before starting any new medications or supplements, particularly if you have any pre-existing medical conditions, are taking any medications currently, are pregnant or breastfeeding, or researching therapies suitable for infants or children.

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