Acute versus chronic pain: overview of differences

Acute versus chronic pain — you’ve likely heard these terms before if you’re one of the millions of Americans dealing with neck or back pain on a daily basis. There are some commonly accepted definitions of these two terms and having a better understanding of the difference can help you in seeking treatment and lasting relief.

Whether you are suffering from neck or back pain, you should always take the time to evaluate your pain level and symptoms to determine if you need medical help. Pain that lasts longer than a few days to a week or that prevents you from doing your daily activities needs to be evaluated by a physician so he or she can help you find a treatment for pain relief.

Acute and chronic pain definition and causes

The chronic pain definition that is commonly accepted is pain that persists for longer than three months. In contrast, acute pain is considered pain that is only temporary, and is often sharp and immediate. While these types of pain can happen anywhere in the body, the neck and lower back are so common due to the amount of weight they support combined with their relative flexibility.

Here are some of the typical causes of each type of pain as they relate to the neck and back:

  • Acute. Acute pain in the neck, back or pelvic area is often the result of a muscle strain or other similar inflammation that improves over a short period of time.
  • Chronic. Chronic neck or back pain is typically the result of a degenerative spine condition that is causing a spinal nerve, such as a nerve root, or the spinal cord to become compressed.

For either situation you should see a doctor for diagnosis and to develop a treatment plan. A diagnosis usually involves a review of medical history, physical evaluation and diagnostic tests like an X-ray, MRI or CT scan.

Treatment options for chronic pain

Upon diagnosis of both degenerative spine conditions and more minor muscle strains, your doctor may recommend you try medications, massage, physical therapy or other conservative options in order to treat your pain.

However, for those who have chronic neck or back pain due to a spinal condition, such as bone spurs, a bulging or herniated disc, spinal stenosis or another issue, conservative treatments sometimes fail to produce results and surgery becomes an option.

If this sounds like the situation you’re dealing with, contact Laser Spine Institute today. We’ll be glad to explain the variety of minimally invasive procedures our surgeons perform that offer a safer and effective alternative to traditional open neck or back surgery.^ Our minimally invasive decompression surgery and minimally invasive stabilization surgery treat these conditions on an outpatient basis, offering many advantages to our patients.

For more information about the minimally invasive spine procedures available to you, contact Laser Spine Institute. We offer a no-cost review of your MRI or CT scan* to determine if you are a potential candidate for one of our procedures.