Both acute and chronic pain are discomfortable for patients, however discerning between acute versus chronic pain in a patient who presents in an emergency department or in the field when attending as a paramedic is vital for determining their treatment options.
Acute pain can be defined in many ways, but fundamentally is used to identify a new injury or illness and serves to function as a protective identifier for the patient. For example, you place your hand on a hot stove, the nerves in your hand will tell your brain that this is painful and your brain will advise your hand to move rather quickly. This is an acute pain, and as such will subside once the hand has been moved away from the stove, and once the hand is allowed to cool and the injury repaired, the pain will cease.
Chronic pain can be defined as pain that has persisted beyond the duration of the healing process. Chronic pain may result as a consequence of years of untreated pain, such as back pain and back problems. For example, a person with lung cancer may be in chronic pain, and that pain will never cease.
In both acute and chronic pain, the assessment of that pain is subjective and different for all persons. It is important to manage pain where pain exists and current improvements in treatments and drug based analgesia have made it much easier to ensure that people are able to be pain free.