What’s the difference between chronic and acute pain? Essentially the distinction is made with the length of time the pain has continued for and the physiological processes at work.
The following video is an excellent visual representation of the key points:
In case you can’t watch the video, Justin Owen explains:
Acute pain is what is familiar to all of us with an injury – whether it be a stubbed toe or a sudden onset of spinal pain; tissue damage excites pain nerves and makes us say ‘ouch’. At this stage the body begins healing the damaged tissues using localised inflammation and by laying down new tissues to replace the damage. This process will take typically up to 12 weeks for most damage, from bruising to broken bones. At the end of this process the tissues are back to normal and the pain will have subsided.
Chronic pain will typically last longer than 12 weeks and may last for years. It has a very complex nature and tissue damage is only a part of it. In some cases, for instance continued stressing of the damaged area, the damage is never fully healed and the body kind of gives up. It knows there is a problem but the immediate healing process has become stalled. Also, where there has been damage, there is often a heightened sensitivity to the area; what once the brain would have filtered out as inconsequential is now transmitted as hurting. The area continues to be problematic and a vicious cycle begins – the pain puts additional stress on the area, such as muscle spasm, which then exacerbates the pain which then causes more stress which then exacerbates the pain which then… and so on.
In these cases we know as osteopaths that a multi factorial approach is key to healing. Changing habits of posture, exercise, social activity, diet can all help as well as manual therapy.