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Pain basics

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:

  • Surgery
  • 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:

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:

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.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on July 30, 2014

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