The Difference Between Chronic and Acute Pain

June 21, 2021

Pain can take on many forms in the human body, and at times drawing the line between acute and chronic pain can be difficult to diagnose — even for medical professionals. In this article, you will learn the following:

  • The difference between acute and chronic pain
  • Types of acute and chronic pain
  • When to consider using ketamine for chronic pain

When patients go to the doctor with a complaint of acute pain, the condition may be simple to diagnose and easy to treat. The doctor may be able to confirm that the patient has broken a bone, sprained an ankle, or suffered a fall with a resulting bump or bruise. Acute pain may also result from an infection or illness.

Chronic pain can be tricky to diagnose, and determining chronic pain treatment can be difficult, but these patients have more options now than ever to manage their long-term pain. Ketamine for pain can be a viable option for those who have had little success with other medical treatments.

Acute vs Chronic Pain

You may have been suffering from a condition that has caused intense, acute pain for the past month — does this mean you have chronic pain? If you have broken your arm, the pain has an acute cause and can be treated and resolved successfully. 

On the other hand, if you have pain that lingers in your joints with no obvious cause, fevers with no signs of infection, and extreme fatigue, your doctor may investigate the cause with bloodwork and X-rays for signs of autoimmune inflammation. Determining the difference between short-term and long-term pain often depends on the reason for the pain.

Types of Acute Pain

Acute pain is typically the result of an injury, infection, or illness. It means that there is an immediate problem in your body, and the pain is your body’s way of signaling to your brain and nervous system that the issue needs to be fixed immediately. Types of acute pain can include the following:

  • Broken bones
  • Sprain or torn tendons and ligaments
  • Wounds
  • Infections 
  • Migraines

Though acute pain can be annoying — and at times, it can even signal a life-threatening cause — if the cause can be treated, the pain will stop, and it may never return. Chronic pain, on the other hand, sometimes has no obvious cause and can last for a patient’s lifetime.

Types of Chronic Pain

Chronic pain, as the name implies, lasts for a long time. Often, doctors rely on diagnostic criteria to determine when a patient’s short-term pain has crossed the line into long-term pain. Several medical conditions can cause chronic pain, including the following:

  • Autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus
  • Neurological conditions such as multiple sclerosis
  • Injuries that have healed improperly
  • Back pain
  • Cancer
  • Chronic migraines
  • Fibromyalgia

You may notice on this list that the types of chronic pain can vary widely, and doctors may not consider a diagnosis of chronic pain unless the patient has had the complaint for three to six months. Doctors often have to do investigative work and “play detective” to find the cause of a patient’s illness if it is not obvious — and the pain is sometimes not the result of an illness at all. Herniated discs in the patient’s back, compressed nerves, and even old sports injuries during the patient’s youth that were not treated correctly during their acute phase can cause lasting, chronic pain well into the patient’s middle age.

Chronic pain can take a toll on the patient’s life financially, emotionally, and socially. It’s often difficult to explain the role of an “invisible illness” to friends and family as even loved ones, and romantic partners often do not understand how much chronic pain patients suffer on a daily basis. Learning about the type of pain you have and understanding both conventional and unconventional treatments can be the key to managing it.

Should Patients Try Ketamine to Manage Their Chronic Pain?

Chronic pain ketamine therapy is not a first-line treatment for pain, and many patients may have never heard of the medication. Read on to discover what ketamine is, what conditions it is used to treat, and whether it may be an option to discuss with your medical team about your chronic pain.

What is Ketamine?

Ketamine has a reputation as a street drug, but most people are unaware that it has been used as an anesthetic and sedative since the Vietnam War. At high doses, it can cause sedation, but at a low dose, it can be used as part of a management plan for mental health disorders, PTSD, and chronic pain that originates from a variety of causes. Taking ketamine can also help other painkillers work more efficiently.

Ketamine has been studied as a treatment for depression in the form of an infusion or nasal spray. When patients use ketamine, they may respond even within a few hours, whereas typical antidepressants can take weeks to work efficiently. It has been most effectively used both for severe depression and for long-term pain that has not responded well to conventional treatments.

How Can Ketamine Help With Chronic Pain?

Your doctor may choose to start you on intravenous ketamine if you have severe, long-term pain that you can’t keep under control with medication or lifestyle modifications. The best-case scenarios can help you live a better quality of life and even avoid unnecessary surgery. Suppose you have been using other types of medication for a long time. In that case, your pain may be growing worse due to the central sensitization phenomenon in which your pain is multiplied due to faulty signals in your central nervous system.

Narcotics work well for many people, and they can be lifesaving in the short-term pain management scenario, but using them long-term can lead to devastating consequences. Using ketamine may help you return to a more functional state without the dependence on opioids and other strong medications that have abuse potential.

For certain types of chronic pain, especially nerve pain, ketamine can provide short-term relief by dampening the effect the pain has on your daily functioning and stopping the nerves from misfiring. Ketamine works to block the NMDA receptors in your brain that amplify pain signals received from your body: When ketamine blocks these receptors, your pain is decreased as a result.

Though ketamine may seem like a viable option for all types of pain, it is a medicine, and it does come with side effects. It’s also not appropriate for acute pain or milder types of pain that will resolve using other pain-relieving medications. Check with your doctor to see if ketamine therapy is suitable for your specific case.

Get in touch with us

Having a chronic pain diagnosis does not mean that you have to accept a lifetime of suffering. Klarisana can help with solutions that are safer and more reliable long-term than opioids. Get in touch with us today to learn more about our ketamine programs for people who suffer from long-term pain. We look forward to meeting you and helping you reach your health goals!

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