Dear Dr. Roach: What is the difference between chronic pain and acute pain? How can I best describe my chronic pain when it is variable in intensity but negatively impacts so much of my life and my activities? Are there things my doctor should consider or suggest in my treatment or in communicating with me? P.P.C.
Answer: Acute pain is usually due to an injury or infection, and we expect healing to occur relatively quickly. Chronic pain is expected to go on for at least six months. In some people, acute pain is not treated adequately at the time of injury, and the brain and body learn to be in pain chronically.
The reason for pain is perfectly obvious in some cases, but in others, it is not possible to identify the exact cause of pain. Most times, pain is due to damaged nerves (neuropathic pain); injury or degeneration in the musculoskeletal system (osteoarthritis and many kinds of back pain); inflammatory pain (due to infection or inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis); and compressive pain (such as kidney stones or cancer).