Acute vs. Chronic Pain
Pain can be acute, sub-acute or chronic in nature. Acute refers to recent onset; or an aggravation/ exacerbation of a previous injury. Acute pain is associated with inflammation, swelling, heat, and redness. These symptoms are the hallmark of your body’s initial attempt to heal the area.
Sub-acute is the stage where the initial surge of inflammation and pain has mostly diminished and tissue repair is in full swing. It either leads to full resolution of the pain/injury (pre-injury status) or residual, chronic pain and/or dysfunction. Dysfunction refers to a percentage loss of normal function of a joint; for example, not being able to raise your arm above shoulder level after a shoulder injury.
Chronic pain is pain that has gone through normal stages of tissue healing, but symptoms persist for various reasons. There is less inflammation and swelling, and pain is typically duller in nature. Chronic pain may have central nervous system involvement (pain perpetuated by the brain and spinal cord), which can explain its perseverance.
As a general guideline, with acute pain the standard approach is to manage inflammation and limit stress to the affected body part (do not place heavy weight on it; keep it relatively immobile initially). Ice initially, and add heat modalities later. Compress, and elevate. Try not interfere with your body’s attempts to heal the pain.
With chronic pain, you have more leeway to try different things, as the body’s reparative processes have “taken a break.” There is less inflammation, and usually you can move the affected body part more compared to when it was acute.
NEXT: The Strategies for Self-Treatment
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