The Difference Between Acute and Chronic Back Pain

back pain cork

Back pain is an extremely common condition, with about 9 in 10 adults experiencing it at some point in their life. It may be characterized as a dull, shooting, burning or piercing pain, radiating into the neck, the arms and hands as well as the legs or feet.

Back pain can be typically classified into two main duration-based categories: acute back pain and chronic back pain.

Acute Back Pain

Acute pain is the body’s normal response to damage such as physical injuries. It’s the type of pain you experience when you touch a hot stove or when you smash your finger with a hammer: it usually comes on fast and lasts up to 12 weeks. When pain persists, it can be affected by other influences, which can increase the chances of developing chronic pain.

Sub-acute back pain refers to the second half of the acute period (6 to 12 weeks).

Chronic Back Pain

Chronic back pain is commonly defined as a period of pain that persists for longer than 12 weeks, even after an initial injury or underlying cause of acute pain has been treated.

As pain moves from the acute phase to the chronic stage, factors unrelated to tissue damage and injury – such as anxiety, depression and decline in physical condition due to lack of exercise – become more important. Chronic pain is much less well understood than acute pain and sometimes no clear reason for the development of chronic back pain can be identified.

Neuropathic back pain is a particular, complex, chronic pain state in which no signs of the original injury remain, caused by damage or injury to the nerves. Neuropathic pain commonly produces a burning, cold or stabbing sensation against which traditional pain killers cannot help very much.