Types of Pain: Acute vs. Chronic

“Acute pain is provoked by a specific disease or injury, serves a useful biologic purpose, is associated with skeletal muscle spasm & sympathetic nervous system activation, & is self-limited. Chronic pain, in contrast, may be considered a disease state. It is pain that outlasts the normal time of healing (if associated with a disease or injury.) Chronic pain may arise from psychological states, serves no biologic purpose, & has no recognisable end-point” [1]. From a Pain Specialist’s perspective: acute pain therapy is geared to treat the underlying cause & interrupt the certain nerve signals. And chronic pain therapy is reliant on a multidisciplinary approach which comprises more than one remedial modality [1]

Putting a Spotlight on Acute & Chronic (Long-Term) Pain Symptoms

Acute Pain
As any Pain Consultant will tell you, generally speaking, acute pain comes about suddenly, and is caused by something specific, (for example, a broken bone from a fall). It has a sharp quality, and does not normally go on for more than 6 months. Of note, if your acute pain disappears, the underlying issues should have gone. However, the best course of action is to visit a Pain Doctor, as they will give you an accurate diagnosis, put you on a Personalised Treatment Plan, and then monitor your progress.

Common Causes of Acute Pain
• Surgery
• Cuts or burns
• Broken bones
• Dental work
• Childbirth and labour [2]

Chronic Pain
This category of pain is continuous, and normally carries on for more than 6 months. Indeed, long-term pain may carry on after the illness or injury has subsided. This is because the body’s pain signals can remain active in the nervous system for an unpredictable amount of time. For example, with some patients, it could be months or weeks; conversely, for others, it could be years [2]. Fortunately, there is now a broad spectrum of conventional and state-of-the-art treatments that can be administered by a Pain Doctor. – Pain Blocks, which are delivered by a simple injection, are an excellent example, as are steroid injections.

Common Causes of Acute Pain
• Headache
• Nerve pain
• Back pain
• Fibromyalgia
• Arthritis
• Cancer [2]

Note: if you are going to have an online or in-person appointment with a Pain Consultant, be it for acute or chronic pain, it is a good idea to start writing a ‘Pain Diary.’ This should have daily pages with 24 hour slots. Toy Pain Doctor will find this extremely helpful!


[1]. Grichnik KP, Ferrante FM. The difference between acute and chronic pain. Mt Sinai J Med. 1991 May;58(3):217-20

[2]. Institute for Chronic Pain (2021). “Chronic Pain Syndrome.”