Pain can range from a mild discomfort to intense or throbbing pain. Pain can also be short-term, or long-term.
What is acute pain?
Acute pain is short-term pain that begins suddenly and is usually sharp. It serves as a warning of disease or a threat to the body. Acute pain may be caused by many events or circumstances, including:
- Broken bones
- Dental work
- Burns or cuts
- Labour and childbirth
Acute pain may be mild and over in a moment, or it may be severe and last for weeks or months. In most cases, acute pain does not last any longer than a few 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 is long-term pain that lasts longer than 12 weeks.
The physical effects of chronic pain include tense muscles, limited mobility, lack of energy, and changes in appetite. Emotional effects include depression, anger, anxiety and fear of re-injury. This fear may hamper a person's ability to return to normal work or leisure activities. Common sources of chronic pain include:
- Low-back pain
- Cancer pain
- Arthritis pain
- Neurogenic pain (pain resulting from damage to nerves)
- Psychogenic pain (pain not attributable to past disease or injury, or to any visible sign of physical damage)
Chronic pain may derive from an initial trauma/injury or infection. Alternatively, 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 treated?
Depending on its severity, pain may be treated in a number of ways. Options for the symptomatic treatment of pain may include one or more of the following:
- Drug treatments: non-prescription medications such as paracetamol and ibuprofen, or stronger options such as morphine, codeine or an anaesthetic.
- Nerve blocks (blocking a group of nerves with local anaesthetics)
- Complementary treatments such as acupuncture, relaxation and biofeedback
- Electrical stimulation
- Psychological counselling
- Behaviour modification
Some pain medicines are more effective at fighting pain when they are combined with other methods of treatment. You may need to try various methods to maintain optimal pain relief.