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Acute Pain Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

Acute pain is sudden or urgent pain. You may get acute pain if you've had an injury or trauma. Acute pain may also result from surgery or other health treatments.

Doctors define acute pain as pain linked with a cause that they can relieve with treatment. Acute pain means pain that will lessen or stop as healing occurs.

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What Is Acute Pain?

You may wonder what acute pain means. If you've ever felt pain right after an accident or health treatment, you've had it.

The definition of acute pain is pain that lasts for a certain length of time. Your doctor can often tell what's causing the pain and treat it.

Acute pain that persists after an injury can become chronic pain.

What are the types of acute pain?

Acute pain can occur in any part of your body, such as your:

  • Bones.
  • Joints.
  • Muscles.
  • Nerves.

If you're injured or treated for a disease like cancer, you may feel acute pain in your organs.

What causes acute pain?

Any type of pain is your body's response to a certain issue.

Nerves at the affected site send messages (electrical impulses) to your brain. Receptors in your brain (neurons) receive these signals and cause you to feel pain.

You may have acute pain for many reasons, such as if you:

  • Break a bone.
  • Have a health problem or illness that causes pain.
  • Give birth.
  • Have tissue damage from disease, injury, or overuse.
  • Have dental work or surgery.
  • Pull a muscle.
  • Take a hard hit (blunt trauma), such as from a car crash or tackle in a football game.

Acute pain can also result from:

  • Skin burns.
  • Cuts.
  • Infections.

What are acute pain risk factors and complications?

Anyone can have acute pain, but how you feel pain varies.

If you and another person have the same type of injury, how you both feel pain may differ.

Acute pain risk factors

Acute pain may feel more severe if you:

  • Are female.
  • Are older.
  • Have genetic changes that affect how you feel pain.

Complications of acute pain

Acute pain tends to go away once you've healed from an injury or illness. Pain may last for a day or for months.

But if you still have pain longer than 3 to 6 months after you're better, it becomes chronic pain.

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Acute Pain Symptoms and Diagnosis

What are the signs and symptoms of acute pain?

Acute pain differs for each person.

In the injured area, you may feel:

  • Burning.
  • Numbness.
  • Pain that feels sharp, like something is stabbing you.
  • Pain that seems to have a heartbeat (throbbing).
  • Tingling.
  • Weakness.

How do doctors diagnose acute pain?

To diagnose acute pain, your doctor will talk with you about your symptom and do a physical exam.

If you have an injury, tell your doctor how it happened. If you're sick or had a health treatment, tell your doctor when the pain began and whether it's getting worse.

Your doctor may ask you to rate your pain on a scale of 1 to 10.

They may also order tests to find the cause of your pain, such as:

Electrodiagnostic tests tell your doctor if there are problems with how your nerves are sending signals to your brain.

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How Do You Treat Acute Pain?

Acute pain often resolves as your injury heals and you recover.

But there's no need to suffer while you wait. UPMC pain management experts can help relieve your pain as you get better.

Medications for acute pain

You may take over-the-counter medicines like acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

If your pain is severe, your doctor may suggest:

  • Anti-seizure drugs. These help relieve numbness and tingling if you have nerve damage.
  • Shots. Your doctor may inject a corticosteroid medicine in the injured area to help reduce inflammation in your body's tissues.
  • Muscle relaxers. These drugs help loosen tight muscles.
  • Opioids. These prescribed drugs help relieve severe acute pain. Talk to your doctor about addiction risks if you take these.

Massage therapy for acute pain

If your doctor suggests it, massage therapy can help:

  • Relieve acute pain after an injury or surgery.
  • Relax you.
  • Improve the range of motion in your joints and muscles.

Physical therapy for acute pain

A physical therapist can help relieve pain in the injured area through:

  • Stretching.
  • Strengthening exercises.
  • Giving you workouts to do at home.

Topical treatments for acute pain

Your doctor may use cold or heat to treat acute pain in the affected area.

You may also use creams or gels that contain medicines to relieve pain.

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