The Difference Between Acute Pain and Chronic Pain

Different treatments for different types of pain

Most people who develop a new episode of back pain will experience pain relief within six weeks. Studies report that up to 90 percent of people with acute low back pain get better on their own no matter what they do or what they don’t do, and despite what their doctors prescribe or don’t prescribe.

This leads to all sorts of different treatments that people swear cured them of their back pain. These include:

  • Certain medications
  • Massage
  • Manipulation
  • Watchful waiting

A small but substantial number of people with acute back pain eventually develop chronic back pain. Chronic pain is pain that has lasted longer than three months or pain that has been present for most days over the past six months. In either definition, the pain associated with an injury should have already healed.

There are a lot of different treatments that are advertised to people, but we recommend you be cautious. Some treatments may have little or no effect on chronic pain and some may even cause further harm. Chronic back pain is not very responsive to many of the same treatments, medications, procedures, or even surgery that are used for acute pain. Some treatments could lead people to become forever dependent upon the medical system for additional treatments or lead to worsening pain.

Acute pain

  • Less than three months in length
  • Responsive to nearly all treatments
  • Most treatments are harmless

Chronic panic

  • Present for most days over the past six months
  • Unresponsive to many treatments
  • Some treatments that exist may cause harm
Last reviewed: 
April 2018

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