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Acute and chronic pain

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Acute and chronic pain are two distinct types of pain which most of us have probably experienced at some point in our life. These terms are generally used by health professionals, but understanding the differences would help the lay person more effectively describe their condition to these professionals they are seeking help from.

Acute – injuries occur suddenly during activity. This might be during sport (spraining your ankle), at home (gardening) or in the office, such as in lifting poorly and incurring back pain. There are a multitude of acute injuries that could occur through a multitude of circumstances. Just about every part of your body, (bones, muscles, joints and ligaments), is potentially subject to suffering an acute injury. The majority of these acute injuries occur during recreation (strained hamstrings, pulled achilles tendons, rotator cuff niggles, etc). These are all just a few examples of the types of injuries I have treated. It’s very hard to estimate recovery timeframes for acute injuries as they are so varied in nature and depend largely on severity. They could be two weeks or two months in some cases.

If you’re someone who experiences acute and chronic pain, but is still suffering the effects of that injury today, then it’s likely your injury has become chronic. Chronic injuries are not necessarily preceded by an acute injury to the same region however, these injuries typically result from overusing one area of the body. The most common scenarios include whilst playing a sport or exercising over a long period, or through placing repetitive stress through your body such as in prolonged sitting at work. Chronic injuries are probably more prevalent than what most people realise. Most people, regardless of their vocation, are likely to perform repetitive tasks on a daily basis.

acute and chronic pain

Imagine, if you will, the coffee barista. In terms of muscular effort and the force or stress placed through the body, it doesn’t take much effort to make one coffee, but think how many coffees a barista would make in a day – probably hundreds! So, by the end of the week, the month, the year, the coffee barista has placed a significant amount of stress through the body. The barista may or may not suffer any pain or apparent injury at this time, but it’s certainly conceivable that he or she will do so eventually. The same would apply to the construction worker, the tennis coach, the typist, the tailor, the barber, the bus driver, even the chiropractor, God forbid!

The trouble with chronic injuries is their insidious development. Like a stealth bomber, they fly above the radar and ultimately, cause havoc. The other problem with chronic injuries is that people rarely recognise the repetitive nature of their jobs and past-times. People are thus unaware of the potential they have to influence injury. Lastly, people tend to respond only to pain, and chronic injuries don’t become painful until the damage is significantly progressed. In this way, people present themselves to the health professional in need of more treatment than what they had anticipated. The toughest thing for patients to understand is that chronic injuries develop over a long time, and therefore often take longer to fix.

It’s easy for the lay person to recognise that, upon twisting their ankle or hurting their low back whilst lifting, they need immediate help. The take-home message here is, that whilst you may be fortunate enough to have avoided an injurious accident, your weekly activities could be following a path of injury. Acute and chronic pain may be at an interchange. Conduct a basic assessment of your work, hobby or sporting interest. Think of any repetitive movements or postures you perform regularly, or on a daily basis. This could include any movement where you use one side of your body more so than the other such as in leaning on one leg, twisting to a preferred side, or using the same arm to perform tasks etc. The same applies to postures you might assume in the classroom or the office.

If you suspect you’re wearing your body away doing the same old thing time and time again, see your health professional for advice. He or she should be able to offer effective treatment for any pain relief, but also suggest some self-help strategies, therapeutic home exercises and other general exercise advice.

*DISCLAIMER: This discussion does not provide medical advice. The information, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images and other material contained in this discussion are for informational purposes only. The purpose of this discussion is to promote broad consumer understanding and knowledge of various health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read in this blog.

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