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What’s the difference between chronic and acute pain?

Towanda Stewart
Nursing Specialist

Chronic & acute pain differ most in regards to onset and duration. Some basic questions that may be asked by your health care provider to help differentiate between acute & chronic pain include:

  • When did the pain begin?
  • How long have you been experiencing the pain?
  • How do you rate the pain on a 1-10 scale (1 being least amount of pain and 10 being the worst pain) or using the FACES scale?
  • Is the pain ever alleviated?
  • Do you experience the pain ALL of the time?
  • What aggravates the pain?
  • What do you do to relieve the pain?

With chronic and acute pain, the pain messages are sent differently. When people get hurt, a relay system is set up in the body. It delivers a message really quickly to the brain, and the brain tells the body what to do. This is acute pain and it goes away quickly. With chronic pain, the nerves become really sensitive and the pain messages are delivered non-stop. Chronic pain interrupts sleeping and makes people tired. It makes it harder for people to do the things they like to do.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.