Acute vs. Chronic Injury

There are many different types of pain in the world. You’ve probably experienced a few different kinds yourself, even if you don’t have a medical condition. For example, achy or sore muscles are common enough, but that’s a very different pain from stubbing your toe or breaking a bone.

You may have heard the terms acute pain and chronic pain used in the medical field. How do acute pain and chronic pain differ?

The major difference between acute pain and chronic pain, as stated, is the length of time it lasts.

Generally speaking, most medical professionals define acute pain as lasting less than 12 weeks. It is usually associated with an injury or illness, and it often goes away with treatment and healing.

Chronic pain, by contrast, is pain that lasts longer than 12 weeks. It may or may not be associated with an injury or illness. It usually outlasts the treatment period of the initial injury or illness.

What is an Acute Injury?

Acute injuries present themselves suddenly and are typically linked with a trauma, for example a torn muscle due to an impact or torsion. The most common form of acute injuries in day to day life are sprains and strains. A sprain is an injury to a ligament connecting bones – usually caused by overstretching an ankle, knee or wrist. A strain is an injury to a muscle or tendon – commonly due to overstretching and tearing the muscle or tendon.

To tackle acute injuries, the body will utilise inflammation around the problem area to repair the damaged tissues. This results in most of the following symptoms, which may persist for weeks after the acute injury:

  • Sudden, severe pain
  • Swelling
  • Inability to place weight on a lower limb
  • Extreme tenderness in an upper limb
  • Inability to move a joint through full range of motion
  • Extreme limb weakness
  • Visible dislocation/break of a bone

PRICE – Protection, Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation remains one of the most recommended approaches for the management of an acute injury. The aim is to minimize swelling, inflammation, cellular metabolism, and pain, to provide the optimum conditions for healing to take place.

What is a Chronic Injury?

A chronic injury commonly results from overusing one body area or from a long-standing condition. These types of injuries are common in many endurance sports such as cycling, running, and swimming but can even present themselves from more sedentary activity like spending too long on a computer. They are sometimes referred to as overuse injuries because they occur in body parts that are used a lot whilst playing a sport or by exercising for an extended period of time.

Common chronic injuries include arthritis, tendonitis, tennis elbow, repetitive strain injury (RSI) and runner’s knee. These injuries can be linked to incorrect training techniques, pushing your body too fast, or even by over-extending your body in a certain motion during a sporting activity.

Signs of a chronic injury include:

  • Swelling
  • Tenderness to a limb
  • Long-lasting pain

Some injuries require prompt medical treatment, while others can be self-treated. You should seek advice from a health professional if:

  • The injury causes severe pain, swelling, or numbness
  • You can’t tolerate weight on the area
  • The pain or dull ache of an old injury is accompanied by increased swelling, joint abnormality, or instability.
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Orthopedics & Sports Medicine

Our highly experienced and regarded orthopedic surgeons specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of disorders that affect bones, joints, muscles, cartilage, ligaments and nerves of the extremities and spine. They are proud to be affiliated with both St. Mary Mercy Hospital and St. John Macomb Hospital..

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You’ll have the advantage of the latest surgical and non-surgical procedures in back and neck pain. A team approach to your spinal problems may include physical therapy, medication, exercise, weight loss and therapeutic spinal injections. Additionally, we offer the area’s best orthopedic spine surgeons for repair or reconstruction of structural disorders.

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The pain management / physical medicine and rehabilitation physicians at Mendelson Kornblum have a tremendous amount of experience and knowledge regarding pain-relieving techniques and treatments. Areas of specialty include back pain, neck pain, herniated discs, pinched nerves, post-surgical pain, cancer-related pain, musculoskeletal injuries, and rehabilitation for back and neck injuries. If you have acute or chronic pain that affects your mobility and ability to function, Mendelson Kornblum Orthopedics can help restore your quality of life.

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Our rehabilitation approach complements your surgeon’s intervention with continual sharing of diagnostic information that can help promote a speedy recovery. In addition, due to our exclusive dedication to orthopedic conditions, we have developed many techniques that can significantly reduce the amount of pain during your rehabilitation.