The symptoms of acute and chronic pain

There’s not a single person alive who has never experienced pain. Pain does, however, come in so many different forms.

Pain, when acute, is the body’s way of warning you of possible tissue damage, such as when you burn your finger.

It could also be the result of something such as a broken bone. In both cases the purpose is to warn you to minimise damage – in the first case, to remove your finger from the burning stove plate, and in the second, not to continue using the limb which has been broken, and giving it a chance to heal.

Acute pain often starts with an unexpected injury, or something such as surgery, and then it diminishes over time if there is no inflammation.

Acute pain
The symptoms of acute pain cover the full range of possibilities.

They can start with a shooting pain that could make you cry out, or a stabbing pain in the case of something like a gallbladder infection. This is never something which can be ignored or overlooked.

Or it could be a dull pain, which acute pain often changes into, after the initial stages, such as when you are nursing a nasty cut.

Or it could be a constant ache, of which you are constantly aware, and which might keep you awake at night.

Sometimes acute pain can be throbbing, especially if a cut, a wound or a burn has become inflamed, or a surgical incision has not healed properly.

Pain can also manifest as a sensation best described as pins and needles.

People have differing abilities to endure pain, and what might feel like serious pain to one person might be no more than a dull ache to someone else.

Chronic pain
The definition of chronic pain is that it is ongoing and does not diminish over time. Chronic pain is ongoing, and in the case of degenerative diseases, can become worse over time.

In the case of chronic pain, the purpose of the pain is not to warn you as in the case of acute pain. Your body is not trying to alert you to any danger, or to modify your behaviour in some way. The pain sensations continue as a result of disrepair in a section of the body, such as in an inflamed wrist of someone with rheumatoid arthritis.

Your body constantly alerts your brain to the problem – and this could continue for years in the case of certain conditions and diseases, such cancer or arthritis.

Chronic pain, like acute pain, can come in various forms.

Chronic pain can be mild, moderate or severe, and can, as described above in the case of acute pain, manifest in a variety of ways: from shooting and burning pains, to stabbing pains, a constant ache, a dull ache, pins and needles. The severity of the pain can vary depending on many factors, but there is not a set or predictable pattern to it as in the case of acute pain, which diminishes and then goes away.

This type of pain can also manifest as discomfort, soreness, tightness or stiffness.

Because of its lasting nature, it can lead to other conditions, such as depression and anxiety, insomnia, a withdrawal from activities, and disability, which could translate in an inability to perform daily activities or perform at work.

There are several conditions that are renowned for causing chronic pain. These are arthritis (both rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis) fibromyalgia, shingles, nerve damage, multiple sclerosis to name but a few.


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