Acute vs. Chronic Pain

Every person experiences pain at one point or another during a lifetime. The presence of pain is often an indication that something is wrong. Each individual is the best judge of his or her own pain. Feelings of pain can range from mild and occasional to severe and constant. Treatments for acute and chronic pain aregenerally quite different. In some cases, pain can be stopped or alleviated by a single procedure or series of procedures. Sometimes, chronic pain is part of a widespread disease process, and the specific cause may be difficult to pinpoint.

Once you have identified the specific factor causing the pain, you may be able to treat it so that thecondition no longer occurs. The specific factor causing the pain – onset of cancer, for example – cannot be changed (at least not within the focus of this article) -but you are able to exit the pain and at least start to better cope with the it through a combination of emotional, psychological and rehabilitation techniques.

What Is Acute Pain?

Acute pain begins suddenly and is usually sharp in quality. Acute pain is of short duration, and likely the result of an injury, surgery or illness. This type of pain includes acute injuries, post-operative pain and post-trauma pain. It serves as a warning of disease or a threat to the body. Acute pain may be caused by many events or circumstances, such as:

  • Surgery
  • Broken bones
  • Dental work
  • Burns or cuts
  • Labor and childbirth

Acute pain may be mild and last just a moment, or it may be severe and last for weeks or months. In most cases, acute pain does not last longer than six months and it disappears when the underlying cause of pain has been treated or has healed. Unrelieved acute pain, however, may lead to chronic pain.

What Is Chronic Pain?

Chronic pain persists longer than 3 months, often despite the fact that an injury has healed. Pain signals remain active in the nervous system for weeks, months, or years. Chronic pain is an ongoing condition, such as back and neck pain, headaches, complex regional pain syndrome Type 1 (reflex sympathetic dystrophy), neuropathic pain (nerve injury pain), musculoskeletal pain, and pain related to illness. Your physician may refer you to a Pain Management Center because your chronic pain condition has not responded to conventional therapies. Physical effects include tense muscles, limited mobility, a lack of energy, and changes in appetite. Emotional effects include depression, anger, anxiety, and fear of re-injury. Such a fear may hinder a person’s ability to return to normal work or leisure activities. Common chronic pain complaints include:

  • Headache
  • Low back pain
  • Cancer pain
  • Arthritis pain
  • Neurogenic pain (pain resulting from damage to nerves)
  • Psychogenic pain (pain not due to past disease or injury or any visible sign of damage inside)

Chronic pain may have originated with an initial trauma/injury or infection, or there may be an ongoing cause of pain. However, some people suffer chronic pain in the absence of any past injury or evidence of body damage.

How is Pain Often Treated?


L0000384 Anatomical axpression of pain. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images Extremity of pain: ' a man delivered of a mortal blow who is infuriated like beast.' 1806 Essays on the Anatomy of Expression in Painting Bell, Sir Charles Published: 1806 Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0
Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images
Extremity of pain: ‘ a man delivered of a mortal blow who is infuriated like beast.’
1806 Essays on the Anatomy of Expression in Painting
Bell, Sir Charles
Published: 1806
Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

Depending upon its severity, pain usually treated in a number of ways. Options for the treatment of pain to cover the symptoms may include one or more of the following:


  • Drug treatments such as non-prescription drugs like Aleve, Motrin, and Tylenol or stronger medications such as morphine, codeine, or anesthesia. Other drugs — like muscle relaxers and some antidepressants — are also used for pain.
  • Nerve blocks (the blocking of a group of nerves with local anesthetics)
  • Alternative treatments such as acupuncture, relaxation, and biofeedback
  • Electrical stimulation
  • Physical therapy
  • Surgery

And less often:

  • Psychological counseling
  • Behavior modification

You may need to try many of the tools to maintain maximum pain relief.

Healing Lower Back Pain

An example is low back pain. I don’t mean the kind of pain that aches and leaves you a bit sore. I’m talking about the kind of pain that takes you out of action. There is nothing quite so debilitating it is the kind of pain that makes even walking hard to do.

Some people learn to live with the pain. In the morning they get up and move slowly until the stiffness is worked out. They learn to be careful picking up even the smallest things. Everyday activities become a test to see if there is some way to do even the simplest activities or not.

One reason muscles in the low back tighten up and sometimes spasm is a misalignment in the joints. Misalignments press on sensitive tissues causing pain. Muscles tense, nerves get compressed and the surrounding area becomes inflamed. With inflammation comes pain.

The most common low back issue comes from a combination of three issues. First, the fifth lumbar in the very lower back goes out of alignment. Next, the illio-sacral joint which is the junction between the upper hip in the back, and then the sacrum goes out of alignment. The weakness allows the spine in the low back to get compressed, even locking the vertebrae together.

The illio-sacral joint is the load-bearing connection between the upper and lower body. Most of the weight of the entire upper body rests on this joint. When there is a problem here, especially when coupled with the other two misalignments, there is no strength in the back. Usually, it is quite painful.

Stress: The Root of Pain

What is the root cause of most lower back problems? That is the real question. Back problems often return, so knowing the root cause is essential in treatment and prevention.

In most cases the root issue is stress. Time off is one of the best-known treatments for low back pain. However, it often returns when people return to their usual lives.

Stress injures the body by putting excess strain on the adrenal glands which produce stress hormones. As the adrenals work harder and harder, they start drawing nutrients from other areas of the body to keep up with demand. Some of the nutrients they really need are the same ones that ligaments and tendons need to keep their tone. And, the low back often is the first place to go.

Dealing with the stressors is first. One of the worst ones that really harms the adrenals is sugar including honey, fruit juice, dried fruit and more. Processed carbohydrates release their sugar stores quickly, so they cause the same problems. Things like noodles, bread, chips both corn and potato and other ‘health chips,’ white rice, bread of any kind and just about anything that comes in a package.

Another stress factor is emotional stress. This could be caused by any intense emotional experience from work-related expectations to a great loss. These issues need to be dealt with on different levels. Obviously, a release of some type is needed for the immediate issue. And, the root, often from childhood, must be dealt with.

On a physical level, emotional components can become lodged in the body. They usually cause some sort of problem like a tight muscle pulling a rib out of alignment resulting in chronic back pain. These issues can be cleared using a very gentle Applied Kinesiology technique.

Steps to Good Back Health

Realignment is next. After the underlying issues have been cleared, it is time for realignment. Realignment is facilitated by physical manipulations that put bones in proper alignment so that the joint is fully functional.

There are different ways to realign a back and other areas of the body. One is to go to a chiropractor or an osteopath, a medical doctor who specializes in joint manipulation. They often use forceful techniques that can cause other problems and sometimes even more pain. Not to mention the scary noises as joints are forced back into alignment. There are some though who learn and develop more gentle techniques.

Alternatively, you can learn how to adjust yourself with self-adjusting technique. This is a simple method of doing gentle adjustments on yourself without the forcing that is common to so many chiropractic adjustments.old dentist image

Stretching can relieve back pain, as well as help prevent problems. Taking a yoga class is a good way to learn stretches that will help your back. It is best to tell the instructor before the class if you have any limitations. Often they can give you an alternative pose or a variation. With time you can develop a daily practice which many people use to eliminate back problems.

Exercise is essential to good back health. Walking is one of the best exercises in the world. As well as working most every muscle in the body, walking strengthens the core muscles that support the low back.

These are just a few things that can be done for any kind of back pain. There are many other treatments available. Now more than ever, we can be proactive with our health and with our treatment possibilities. Find what works for you, and above all else, listen to your body.

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