Ask a Chiropractor: Acute vs. Chronic Pain Which Do You Have?

Acute vs. Chronic Pain

How do you know if you have acute or chronic pain? 

Pain within the first two days after you notice it is considered acute; if it lasts for more than two days, it becomes sub-acute. This phase is critical because if the pain isn’t treated properly, it can become chronic, meaning it has been there for three months or more and is persistent or recurring.

Top Three Things To Focus On

» Daily movement

» Eating a whole foods diet

» Incorporating daily strategies for temporary relief of pain


Acute pain can start with swelling, inflammation, and pain; it can be worse initially and gradually get better over time.

Chronic pain can become very complex. It might start with a major injury, a small one, or even without any obvious cause. When it progresses or worsens, it starts to affect other areas of life or daily activities, such as the ability to carry out chores like cooking or cleaning. Chronic pain can also affect relationships with people and cause stress or mental health concerns like depression and anxiety.

In most cases, you can do many things to prevent pain from becoming chronic and complex. It can be very overwhelming with so many different options to consider for treatment. The best thing you can do is to seek help from your chiropractor, who is trained in this area. Your chiropractor can help narrow down your treatment options to find one that will provide the best results.

When it comes to chronic pain, it’s important to note that treatment can take a while to provide significant long-term results. The key to effective treatment is being consistent with your recommended plan at home and keeping up with appointments.

If you are dealing with chronic pain, there are some things you can start on your own at home right now, before your first chiropractic appointment.

Daily Movement

Moving your body every single day (whatever that looks like for you) can help to reduce pain and inflammation, increase range of motion, improve strength, and release endorphins that may help with the pain. Movement can be as simple as going for a nature walk, stretching, and yoga; or it can in- include more intensive activities, like lifting weights, using re- resistance bands, or dance workouts. Whatever movement you can tolerate will be helpful—even if that just means changing positions frequently—as prolonged rest will almost always make the pain worse, even though it can feel good temporarily. Feeling some pain after your movements is quite common, but try to avoid movements that cause sharp pain. Your practitioner can help you find the right movements and correct your form to make them more effective.

Good Food

Because sugar, alcohol, and processed foods contribute to inflammation in the body, avoiding them can help reduce pain. Eating as close to a whole-food diet as possible is key; a diet full of protein, fiber, and lots of water can be helpful with chronic pain.

Pain Relief

Achieving pain relief, even temporarily, is different for every- one. Some solutions include ice, heat, stretching, a warm shower, Epsom salt baths, topical creams, foam rollers, and massages. These are things you can test to see if they work for you. These may help to relieve pain long enough for you to move your body or do daily activities, but they likely won’t be sufficient to manage the pain long-term or get rid of it entirely.

How Long Until I’m Better?

A question I always get in my practice is, “How long will it take to go away?” Managing or getting rid of pain can take anywhere from several months to several years; everyone re- acts differently to a treatment. Even with consistent treatment, it could still take 3–12 months to notice significant improvement. But don’t lose hope—people who believe they will get better tend to have better long-term outcomes. To this end, you can talk to someone through support groups, loved ones, or a therapist to help you through this time. Some find comfort through religion, spirituality, meditation, and breath- work as well.

Be open to trying new things and making small (but manageable) lifestyle changes in addition to getting treatment from your chiropractor for the best results.