Acute vs Chronic Pain

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Defining the differences between chronic and acute pain can assist in identifying the most appropriate treatment modalities to manage or improve symptoms.


The International Association for the Study of Pain defines pain as “an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage or described in terms of such damage.” Although there are many ways to classify pain, distinguishing pain as acute or chronic is the most common method of classifying pain in the clinical setting. Acute pain is caused by tissue damage as a result of injury or surgery. Given that acute pain is attributed to biological causes, medical professionals are able to understand the nature of the pain and are typically able to correct or remove the source of the pain.


Chronic pain is pain that persists beyond three months. Chronic pain continues beyond the regular healing time, and its cause may or may not be attributed to biological damage. Chronic pain that is associated with biological damage is typically the result of a degenerative or malignant condition, whereas chronic pain that is not associated with biological damage or has no identifiable organic cause is typically the result of headaches or backaches. Acute pain that is inadequately addressed can result in chronic pain.

Chronic pain can often be accompanied by a complex interplay of biological, social and psychological factors relevant to the individual. It is therefore important that an approach to identify these factors and address them through appropriate interventions forms a part of great rehabilitation practice.



Dopsom, L. (2010) Role of Pain Management Programmes in Chronic Pain.

Mac Lellan, K. (2006). Management of Pain. United Kingdom: Nelson Thornes Ltd.

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