Chronic Pain vs Acute Pain

Clearwater, Tampa, St Petersburg, Florida

What is the difference?

The answer is simple, yet complex.

Acute pain is pain that lasts for a period, and when the body heals, or the underlying cause is treated, the pain stops. The patient and physician understand what is causing the pain; treatment is underway; and it’s just a matter of time before the pain stops.

Chronic Pain is pain that has lasted for three or more months, without relief. Unlike acute pain, chronic pain persists for no apparent physiologic cause after injuries heal (if there were injuries to start with).

This is what makes chronic pain such a confusing and confounding problem to treat, for both patients and the physicians.

One problem is that pain is a symptom of so many underlying medical conditions. Pain differs – its intensity, its trigger, its duration, its treatment – depending on the medical condition. For example, some medical conditions such as cancer may present in a predictable way if there is a bony metastasis. In this case, the pathology behind the pain is easily understood, and treatment options become more focused and directed. On the other hand, there are syndromes such as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia, both of which have chronic pain as a prevailing symptom. Yet, both are a syndrome, which is a group of symptoms that do not have a scientifically known, physiological cause. Which means the cause of the chronic pain is not known.

The causes of pain can also be elusive because pain cannot be analyzed by traditional testing measures or imaging studies. “Pain” does not show up on an x-ray or MRI. This can lead to further frustration for all. Understanding this can help reduce the anxiety associated with unexplained chronic pain.

Understanding these pitfalls to accurately treating chronic pain is a good way to ensure that proposed treatments are the most beneficial – and with the least potential for side effects or complications.

Impact of Pain

One of the most important differences between acute pain and chronic pain is the psychological impact on the patient. Either one can cause loss of sleep, loss of appetite, mood changes, etc. With acute pain, once the body returns to “normal” and the pain stops, these psychological impacts return to normal as well.

With chronic pain, these psychological impacts are compounded by the problems and pitfalls of getting at what the root cause of the pain is. If the root cause cannot easily be identified, the patient can lose hope. It is this feeling of hopelessness that can hasten a downward spiral of the patient’s life.

Chronic pain becomes a problem for an entire life, as opposed to an isolated short-lived painful sensation. As life changes in response to chronic pain, not only are psychological impacts multiplied, but also other medical problems may begin to develop or become worse.

A sedentary lifestyle in response to chronic pain may lead to weight gain, increased problems with diabetes, blood pressure and cardiac difficulties. Understanding this downward spiral is essential to reversing or eliminating the progression.

Treatment for Chronic Pain

Treatment options for chronic pain are as varied as the medical conditions that cause it. It is important for long-term success to uncover and treat the cause, not just the resulting symptom. Failure to successfully deal with chronic pain can lead to obvious negative impacts or other harmful disease states.

If you continue to suffer with chronic pain and your current treatment plan leaves you feeling hopeless, perhaps a fresh set of experienced eyes can change your outlook. Since 1990, Dennis M. Lox, M.D has applied his personal interests in sports medicine, cutting-edge regenerative medicine and chronic pain management to helping patients increase their quality of life. Contact us for an appointment at 727-462-5582.

Dr. Dennis Lox and the Florida Spine Center serve patients within the greater Tampa Bay area, including Clearwater, Tampa and St. Petersburg, as well as all of Florida and the US.

All statements, information or opinions provided by this website are provided for educational purposes only. We do not diagnose nor treat through this website or by telephone. As you consider any treatment, discuss them with your physician.