“Oh my aching back,” sounds like a cliché from a vintage TV show. At the surface of it, one would think pain is pain. But imagine feeling a sharp stabbing pain that stops you in your tracks. Then consider chronic pain, that dull, aching or throbbing that never seems to go away and we just learn to live with. What is the difference between acute and chronic spinal pain that turns that cliché of the aching back into a very painful and debilitating reality?
The dictionary defines “acute” as sharp or severe, intense, critical. When it comes to pain, acute pain comes on quickly, and is intense. Whether via injury or accident, the pain that wasn’t there yesterday is now all-encompassing. The good news is that most acute pain eventually goes away. (More about that in a second.) Acute spinal pain can happen for a variety of reasons such as a car accident, strenuous exercise or activities, or an injury, very often time a strain or fall. However, with the spine, caution should be taken to ensure that acute pain doesn’t evolve into chronic pain.
Acute pain can vary in severity but will not be a long-term type of pain. This means that while your back heals from the injury, you will experience back pain. Once the body heals, the pain will go away.
Quite the opposite of acute, “chronic” means it’s happening over time. If there was a significant event like a fall or a car accident, the event has long passed. Unless treated, chronic spinal pain rarely goes away on its own. Those suffering from chronic spinal pain relish days when the pain is minimal, but know that when the pain is bad, it can be excruciating. With chronic pain, the underlying cause is not healing on its own. There are many reasons for chronic pain. For example, overweight and obese individuals may experience chronic back pain when standing for long periods of time. Or a car accident injury from years ago may cause chronic back pain when while driving or sitting for long periods of time. Chronic spinal pain can be due to a number medical conditions, such as an untreated herniated or bulging disc, or scoliosis.
What’s the Difference?
The difference between acute spinal pain and chronic spinal pain is the condition or underlying issue causing the pain. Acute spinal pain is rectified in a short amount of time, and the underlying cause is manageable. Consider slipping on the ice. Expect to rest, use warm compresses, and take anti-inflammatories. Physical therapy may be recommended. Soon enough, you will be back on the ice (or trying to avoid it). If that slip on the ice has caused significant damage that worsens over time, it’s chronic pain and you can expect some sort of medical intervention, whether pain management through epidurals, or surgery.
Is your spinal pain acute or chronic? Only time will tell. Either way, it’s best to get an expert opinion. Be sure to talk to your doctor about your spinal pain to understand what the underlying cause is. Your doctor can perform a variety of tests to find the issue and work with you to get “back” on track.
The experts at Advanced Bone & Joint specialize in musculoskeletal care and have focus on personalized attention and innovative treatment to promote wellness. If you’re experiencing back pain, acute or chronic; or any other musculoskeletal issue, they would love to help you! Call (636) 229-4222 or request an appointment online today.