What is the difference between acute pain & persistent pain?

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Acute pain tends to be related to a specific injury, where soft tissues are injured, such as an ankle sprain. This type of pain tends to settle down over a 6-12 week time frame, but in some cases may take up to 6 months. This pain is designed to be an alarm system, telling us that we need to rest the affected area in order for healing to occur. The amount of pain we experience can vary from one person to another, based on the severity of the injury, our past experiences and even how worried we might be about the symptoms. This type of pain serves a useful function.

Persistent pain lasts beyond usual healing times. It used to be thought that this is due to ongoing damage, but scientific research has shown that this is unlikely. The pain is more likely to be related to the nervous system (brain and nerves) becoming sensitised, a bit like the volume on your radio being stuck on loud, which means you may experience pain without tissue injury. This type of pain does not serve a useful purpose. When this happens, it can be difficult to do your normal activities. It is possible to turn the volume down, but it takes time and effort. This means that quick fixes, such as medications, injections and operations are often unhelpful. To find out more about persistent pain, click here.