Acute pain is experienced when a stimulus causes a person’s pain, for example, a knife’s cut or a broken bone. It usually lessens or resolves when the stimulus is removed and the tissue damage has healed.
The time for pain to resolve is dependent on the amount of tissue damage and the severity of surgery, but it should dissipate in three months.
Chronic pain, on the other hand, is pain that persists after three months.
One in five people in Australia suffer from chronic pain.
Anaesthetist and Pain Specialist Dr. Roger Tan says continuous pain for more than three months can result in changes in the nerves of the spinal cord and brain, generating persisting pain, even if the tissue damage has healed.
“This often explains why patients experience continuing pain at the site of pain and the medical tests are reported as normal,” says Dr Tan.
“The memory of the tissue damage is enough to generate ongoing pain.”
A classic example is how an amputee can still feel pain, particularly phantom pain, even after the wound has healed completely.
Chronic pain can also occur as a result of nerve damage. Nerve injuries may be unexpected and can’t be diagnosed through medical tests.
Nerve pain is usually reported as burning, shooting, electric shocks, cold, pins and needles and numbness.
When you leave hospital
• If you are confused about your medications, speak with nursing staff or ask for a medication list.
• Be mindful of where you store your medication; keep it out of reach of children.
• Return unused medication to the pharmacy.
• You will be given small amounts of pain medication because your medication will vary as your pain changes.
• If your pain worsens, go to your GP or the emergency department.
If you think a pain specialist could help you manage your pain, ask your GP for a referral.
If you would like to discuss your pain management during your hospital stay, please speak to your specialist
to arrange a visit from the Acute Pain Service.