Acute or Chronic? How to Establish the Severity of Your Physical Pain



Acute or Chronic? How to Establish the Severity of Your Physical Pain

Asking people to pinpoint their level of physical pain is tough, considering everyone feels pain differently, and to varying degrees.

However, there are ways of documenting pain depending on not only its intensity, but the kind of pain inflicted and the duration it tends to last.

If you find yourself experiencing random bouts of pain, or have a continuously dull, throbbing feeling,  it’s important to learn more about your symptoms and discover their cause.

So What is Pain, Exactly?

A broken heart is far different than a broken arm, but that doesn’t mean one hurts any less – just in different ways.

Pain is an uncomfortable feeling or sensation in the body that can be low-impact or even completely debilitating. The unpleasant onset of pain is generally an indication that something is wrong in your body, and it can make itself known suddenly or gain strength slowly over time.


Nerve receptors are responsible for telling your brain the presence of pain. Your body needs only seconds to take the impact of a hit or cut, send the signal to your brain, and feel the resulting pain in the affected area.

Pain is felt from mild and sporadic, to intense and constant. This is how we determine when pain is acute or chronic.

Acute Pain

If you’ve ever gotten a skinned knee or been in a car accident, the quick result of these actions would have brought on acute pain.

Acute pain is the kind that is felt suddenly and will often be described as ‘sharp’ in quality. It generally alerts a person as a warning of disease, or signifying any potential threats to the physical body.

It can be attributed to many events or circumstances, such as:

Recent surgery and the healing process

Broken bones or fracture

Previous (or needed) dental work

Burns, lesions, cuts or blunt impact

Labor ad childbirth during female pregnancy


The levels of acute pain can range anywhere from minimal and quick, to highly severe and lasting for weeks on end.

Generally, acute pain doesn’t persist longer than six months, and it often fades after the underlying cause begins to heal or has been treated.

When pain continues over a year or more, it can depict a deeper issue that may be considered chronic pain.

Chronic Pain

Lingering pain that carries on, whether at high intensity or dull aching, is an indicator of chronic pain. This can drag on, whether the injury to blame has healed or not.

This type can leave your brain sending mixed signals to your body, because the nerve receptors are misinformed, just continuing to send messages at a constant rate, leading to the never-ending agony.

Physical side effects of this type of pain can involve the tensing of muscles, little to no mobility, minimal energy, or changes in mood and appetite.


Emotionally, this can be hazardous to your health, inviting depression, anger, anxiety, and the fear of potentially injuring yourself again. Living in this state of fear could diminish a person’s ability to do his job, or even their daily activities.

Common effects of chronic pain include:

Pounding or throbbing headaches

Lower back pain

Cancer pain

Arthritis pain

Neurogenic pain, due to nerve damage

Psychogenic pain, due to mental confusion caused by pain misinformation

While many generally say their chronic pain came from a previous injury or disease, some don’t ever need any incidents or symptoms to occur before they feel pain. It simply starts for a variety of reasons which can be hard to discern – making a cure that much more difficult.

Handling the onset of acute and chronic pain is treated in different ways as well. Acute pain can resolve itself without any further help, while chronic pain needs more guidance and treatment.

People suffering from acute pain usually only need to seek out primary care for their injuries or knowledge on their problem. On the other hand, people feeling chronic pain require specialised knowledge from a suitable healthcare professional. Neuroscience even comes into play. This is used to reconfigure the problems with the body’s pain receptors and neurotransmitters.


No matter which kind of pain you’re inflicted with, one thing is certain with both types: the need for pain relief.

Leaving it uncontrolled can only magnify the intensity and potentially cause further damage. Therefore, trying to be ‘tough’ and suppress it can be harmful and should never be the right call to make.  

Treatments for Pain


There’s a large gap between simply popping a few over-the-counter painkillers and requiring serious medicine to treat your symptoms. Call your physician or other health professionals to ask their advice before making any medication decisions on your own.

Depending on how badly the pain has persisted, it will be treated in a number of ways.

Options for pain treatment and handling symptoms can involve any of the following:

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)



Localised anesthetic, usually as a shot in the affected area

Nerve blocks (again with anesthetics)


Electrical stimulation

Physical therapy


Psychotherapy (speaking with a professional)

Relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing or meditation

Biofeedback (from one’s own bodily signals)

Behavior modification


Patients may be forced to try various medications to either maximise their pain relief, or determine what works best for their personal needs.

Overall, most forms of pain have been accounted for and can be diagnosed fairly promptly once the underlying cause has been discovered.

If you find yourself suffering from unexpected pain you’re unfamiliar with, or if unusual symptoms have carried on for months on end, it’s time to seek help from a professional.