Often times doctors categorize pain into two major groups i.e., chronic or acute and this grouping can provide important clues for diagnosing and treating your pain. Let us therefore understand the attributes that guide this grouping and what they mean to you and how acute pain can transition to chronic pain.
Acute pain is defined as temporary pain that occurs suddenly due to an illness or injury. Fundamentally, pain represents the alarm system of the body. Acute pain is also warning so that further harm can be prevented. For instance, when you sprain your ankle, it becomes difficult to walk and further injury can be prevented when you rest the ankle and allow some time to heal naturally. Acute pain typically is straightforward with a clear source of the pain and the pain disappears with healing of the injury or the pain source is treated.
Some examples of acute pain are:-
- Broken bones
- Road accidents
- Injuries resulting from sports
Usual pattern of acute pain is an injury that is going through the process of healing and with a clear expectation of healing within a given time frame. Depression or anxiety is generally not part of acute injuries except in instances where extensive rehabilitation is needed for recovery.
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Intermittent or constant pain lasting 3 months or more is defined as chronic pain. Chronic pain also disrupts the cause and effect pattern that is typically associated with acute pain. The primary goal while treating acute pain is restoring good health, while treatment of chronic pain focuses on improved physical functioning and pain management.
Chronic pain can be associated with any of the following conditions:-
- Acute pain gradually transitioning to chronic pain. In this situation an individual can experience pain even when the tissue damage from an acute injury has healed completely. Predicating the type of injuries that can act as a trigger for chronic pain is difficult. Significant problems can result from minor injuries while severe damages heal quickly at times.
- Chronic inflammation – Inflammation represents the defence mechanism of your body against injuries, infections and toxins. Chronic inflammation can be caused when your body is on a high alert consistently in its effort to ward off potential threats which may not even be existing. Such overreaction can cause pain apart from fatigue and fever.
- Medical conditions – Lyme and fibromyalgia are among diseases associated with chronic pain and more so with joint pain.
- Vitamin deficiency – studies have pointed out that muscle pain and weakness can result from serious deficiency of vitamin D. In neuropathic conditions relating to the origin of nerves, vitamin B12 deficiency was also noticed.
- Pain due to cancer – some patients suffering from advanced stage of cancer may also experienced pain, but pain management measures for this group have improved significantly paving way to better control of this pain.
Other methods of categorizing pain
Similar to classifying pain as chronic or acute, it can also be further classified according to the cause/sensation. For instance:
Referred pain: typically this refers to musculoskeletal pain felt in a specific part of the body but caused by a problem in another part of the body. For instance individuals with a low back problem may experience pain in the hip.
Neuropathic pain – this type of pain is triggered typically by malfunctioning nerves and can result in sharp or shock like pain, continuing numbness or tingling, or cold/burning sensations.
Hyperalgesia – This is a condition that can cause a stimulus that normally produces mild pain to exaggerate and trigger the response to pain from the individual.
Allodynia – This condition can cause a stimulus that normally produces pain in order to trigger a response to pain. For instance, when an individual suffers sun burn, even the clothing bracing against the skin can hurt.
The severity of pain such as severe, moderate or mild also is a useful indicator to define the type of pain. Similarly, the frequency of repeated pain or duration of constant pain also communicate with your differently in the process of his diagnoses. When patients describe their pain accurately, it helps the doctor to arrive at focused diagnoses.
Gate control theory
This is a theory that explains why emotions and thoughts influence perception of pain. Medical professionals hold the view that a gating mechanism exists within the spinal cord and this mechanism determines the triggering of pain. When there is no input from the gating mechanism to the brain no pain is experienced. Conversely, pain perception results from the brain receiving signals that a pain is present. In this case, the gating mechanism remains open.
The gate control theory is relatively in its nascent state and does not communicate everything on pain perception but does help in explaining certain aspects of pain.