What is the Difference Between Acute Pain vs Chronic Pain

Despite its unpleasant connotations, the sensation of pain plays a significant role in normal body functions. Your nervous system is hardwired to feel pain—an example would be placing your hand on a hot pan. Within seconds, your body issues a warning signal, a burning, painful sensation that likely causes you to withdraw your hand.

Most painful sensations can be categorized into two broad categories: acute pain vs chronic pain. The example above demonstrates short acute pain, a type of pain that comes and goes within minutes. Learning the basic differences between acute and chronic pain can help you categorize which type of pain you may be experiencing — potentially helping you improve or even saving your life someday.

Acute Pain

Acute pain is typically recognized as pain with a specific and treatable underlying cause. As a result, most acute pain is considered to be temporary and typically can be resolved within an expected recovery period. For example, a patient undergoing a minor surgery is given a recovery period of about 4 to 6 weeks. They may also be told to expect sensations such as sudden, sharp, or persisting pain for a short amount of time post-surgery. However, after the recovery period has passed, patients typically expect both their pre-surgery conditions and post-surgery pains to alleviate, ultimately indicating a successful surgical operation.

Conditions Commonly Associated with Acute Pain:

  • Muscle, tissue, and/or other internal damage.
  • Childbirth and labor.
  • Post-surgery recovery.
  • Dental work/surgeries.
  • Broken or fractured bones.
  • Burns or cuts.

Acute pain can be just as bothersome, miserable, and unpleasant of a sensation as other types of pain. However, the key takeaways regarding acute pain lie in its being diagnosable, treatable, and temporary, with the temporary referring to a few minutes, hours, days, weeks, or months, depending on the severity, condition, and individual situation.

Chronic Pain

Unlike acute pain, chronic pain is characterized by ongoing, unresolved pain that lasts longer than 6 months. Because it is often difficult to pinpoint a specific underlying cause, chronic pain requires longer treatment periods and can be easily misdiagnosed. More often than not, chronic pain can be attributed to more than one underlying medical condition.

While pain in itself is typically considered to be a symptom of other existing conditions, chronic pain itself is classified as a state of disease, according to notable medical institutions like John Hopkins Medicine. In fact, John Hopkins estimates that as many as 1 in 5 Americans suffers from chronic pain at some point during their lifetime.

What is Chronic Inflammation

Inflammation is a normal reaction built into the body’s immune system in order to face threats, traumas, injuries, and other illnesses. When your body detects an infection or injury, it signals to your immune system and white blood cells to increase blood flow at the problem area, potentially causing swelling, redness, joint stiffness, pain, fever, and other flu-like symptoms. In a healthy body, the area of inflammation should dissipate after the white blood cells finish treating the problem area.

Several different abnormalities can cause chronic inflammation, a condition where your body continues to send signals to your immune system even when there is no active threat present. When this happens, the immune system can remain in a prolonged “crisis mode” and target healthy areas within the body.

What is the Difference Between Chronic Pain and Chronic Inflammation

Chronic inflammation is an abnormal reaction of your body’s immune system whereas chronic pain is often regarded as a disease as well as a direct result of chronic inflammation. Modern studies show that chronic inflammation directly contributes to developing conditions associated with chronic pain or chronic pain itself, feeding into a vicious cycle.

Conditions and Diseases Commonly Associated with Chronic Pain

  • Alzheimer’s Disease: Commonly associated with chronic inflammation and pain in seniors.
  • Arthritis: Joint inflammation or stiffness, often caused by irregularities within the immune system. Common types include gout and Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Back Injuries: Pain is commonly experienced in the lower back or back of the neck.
  • Cancer: In addition to the disease itself, many cancer treatments may include some painful or unpleasant side effects.
  • Chronic Migraines: Common symptoms include dull, throbbing pain, headaches, blurred vision, and sensitivity to light.
  • Diabetes: Commonly associated with back, neck, and shoulder pain.
  • Endometriosis: Severely painful menstruation cycles.
  • Fibromyalgia: Chronic disorder associated with muscle pain, fatigue, insomnia, mood, and memory issues.
  • Heart Disease: Often comes in the form of chest pains, aches, pressure, heaviness, etc.
  • Nerve Damage: Nerve pain can be traced back to a wide variety of diseases and deficiencies.
  • Past Surgeries: Sometimes pain from past surgeries can linger or develop into new issues.

Known Physical and Mental Symptoms of Chronic Pain:

  • Decreased energy levels or prolonged feelings of weakness/fatigue
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Dull aching
  • Increased irritability/mood swings
  • Limited mobility or movement
  • Muscle tension
  • Persistent throbbing, stinging, or burning sensations
  • Prolonged insomnia
  • Severe emotional distress
  • Stiff or sore joints
  • Unhealthy changes in appetite

Struggling with chronic pain prevents many Americans from living an independent and fulfilling life. However, there are ways one can reduce the risk of chronic pain, beginning with nutrition.

How Nutrition Affects Chronic Pain

Nutrition is only one aspect when it comes to managing chronic inflammation and treating chronic pain. Yet, it plays an essential role and offers those suffering from chronic pain some simple, straightforward initiatives.

Diet and Pain Management

As described in our blog about nutrition and gut health, your long-term diet directly affects your digestive system. However, the human body is an intricate system, made up of smaller interconnected sub-systems. According to the International Association For the Study of Pain (IASP), your diet also has a direct impact on the health and functionality of your endocrine, nervous, and immune systems. Even if one system is negatively altered, it can cause a ripple effect across your other body systems, resulting in chronic inflammation, pain, and other illnesses.

Can Diet Heal Chronic Pain?

It largely depends on one’s individual health and existing conditions. Because chronic pain often has multiple root causes, it takes more than diet alone to heal chronic pain. However, research shows that healthy diets can effectively reduce the intensity of inflammation flare-ups and by extension, reduce chronic pain. In fact, a multitude of medical professionals recognizes diet and nutrition as significant portions of chronic pain treatment plans.

A variety-rich diet can strengthen immune system response, reduce prolonged inflammation, and provide the nutrients to revitalize other systems within your body.

Best Anti-inflammatory Foods for Chronic Pain

We created a simple grocery list filled with anti-inflammatory food suggestions. Feel free to bookmark, share, or print it out for your next trip. You can download the PDF for free below:

Anti-Inflammation Foods Grocery List Imperium Health Center

When Chronic Pain Becomes Too Much

If your chronic pain is severe to the point where it prevents you from running errands, attending work/school, or performing necessary day-to-day activities, it may be time to seek help from a medical professional.

At Imperium Health Center, we pride ourselves on helping you take back control of your health, body, and lifestyle. Schedule an appointment with us to develop a customized nutritional plan fit for you:

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