What is the difference between acute and chronic pain and how they’re addressed in PT?

Difference Between Acute and Chronic Pain

In physical therapy, the difference between acute and chronic pain is a significant one. The distinction can make all the difference in diagnoses, treatment plans and physical recovery.

Physical therapists can help you determine which type of pain you are experiencing, and help you move toward your goal of getting back to the daily activities you used to enjoy, but with minimal to no pain. 

Research from the National Institutes of Health shows that between 28% and 61% of people in the U.S. develop chronic pain after having experienced some form of acute pain first. Interestingly, chronic pain is more common among women, older adults and people who live in rural areas. 

3 ways to identify acute pain

The difference between acute pain and chronic pain can be determined through a few factors. Read below for a list of several identifiable aspects.

  • Origin — For instances of acute pain, the origin can typically be traced back to a specific moment or injury. 
  • Outlook — For those who feel acute pain, the pain will usually subside after a short period of time. Most people can return to normal daily activities once the pain subsides.
  • Longevity — Pain can last as little as a few days or it can be more extensive, lasting for up to six weeks. 

How is acute pain addressed in physical therapy?

During physical therapy, your therapist will locate the spot of injury and then come up with a unique treatment plan to address that injured area and minimize future pain. They can help you become aware of positions and movements that may exacerbate your pain and how to avoid these while improving your overall mobility. The goal of this type of treatment is to help you get back to the activities you previously enjoyed before experiencing acute pain.

3 ways to identify chronic pain

The specific factors that make chronic pain identifiable are a little different from those of acute pain. Read more about the differences between the two below.

  • Origin — In instances of chronic pain, the origin can’t typically be traced back to a specific moment. It can slowly develop over an extended period of time.
  • Outlook — Unlike acute pain, chronic pain does not go away forever. Pain may subside for a short period of time before returning. For some people, chronic pain can become worse the longer it goes on without treatment, like physical therapy.
  • Longevity — The longevity of chronic pain can be at minimum, three months of constant pain or alternatively six months of pain that occurs on and off. 

What’s the difference between how chronic pain is treated in therapy versus acute pain?

In physical therapy, your therapist will attempt to identify a combination of different factors that may be contributing to your chronic pain. They typically locate areas with muscle weakness, injuries, and reduced range of motion so that they can be improved and strengthened. Treatment plans often consist of manual manipulation and a variety of exercises.

Franklin Rehabilitation can help with your acute and chronic pain

Living with pain doesn’t have to be any worse than it already is. If you’re ready to take control of your pain, whether it be acute or chronic, consider making an appointment request today for a free screening with one of our experts. At Franklin Rehabilitation, our physical therapists are specially trained to address the cause of your discomfort to help you make steps toward returning to a comfortable life.

Contact our team today for more information or to schedule an initial appointment.