While pain can come in many different types in different parts of the body, one of the main distinctions that must be made is between acute, or short-term, and chronic (or lasting) pain. They tend to have different types of causes, and need different pain management strategies no matter what the cause may be.
Diagnosis: Whether the problem is acute or chronic, the first thing that needs to be dealt with is determining what’s causing it. Generally, treatment of this underlying cause is important to treating the pain, which can’t always be considered as a separate condition. Acute pain is generally a direct symptom of a specific injury.
Chronic pain that has lasted for months eventually becomes a medical condition of its own. In some cases, it may have started from an injury that has now long since healed. In others, the might be no apparent cause. Not having an underlying problem to deal with can make treatment more difficult. However, there are other times when the pain does not go away, and this can be a symptom of an undiagnosed illness – sometimes a severe one.
Short-term treatment: In this type of treatment, most often the key is simply to keep it under control until the underlying injury is healed. This is sometimes most easily done with medication. Muscle relaxants, over-the-counter or prescription pain relievers, or corticosteroid injections can be used, depending on location and severity.
Long-term treatment: With chronic pain, the effects of longer-term treatment need to be considered. Many medications are not intended for use over extended periods of time. In some cases, the effects of this use have not been well studied. Eventually, it’s generally best to look at other options.
Surgery is often considered for lasting back conditions, particularly with spinal disc injuries. While this is considered somewhat drastic and is often a last resort, it can get good results.
Another treatment used in more severe cases is electrical stimulation, which connects an implanted wire from a pulse generator directly to the nervous system. The generator is then turned on for a certain amount of time each day. This is often done for severe nerve pain, or for back problems that were not resolved by surgery.
When no apparent organic cause for chronic pain is found, adjusting movement and behavior can help to mitigate symptoms. In many cases, it’s important to avoid straining nearby muscles that could become overworked in compensation.
Many people also turn to less conventional therapies, such as acupuncture or chiropractic treatment. While not always recommended, these have been reported to produce good results.
Strategies used in both: For many types of joint or muscle pain, physical therapy is recommended. This can help prevent stiffness or other difficulties with the healing of acute injuries, and keep them from developing into chronic conditions. Similar stretching and strength exercises are also sometimes recommended to improve movement over the longer term.
Especially for lower-level pain, whether chronic or acute, massage therapy can help to relieve muscle tension that may be making it worse. Massages can also help ease strains.