Acute pain

Pain can be acute (onset within hours or days) or chronic (lasting weeks, months or years). It's important to recognise which type of pain you have, as well as understand what can be done to help.

What is the difference between acute pain and chronic pain?

Pain can start suddenly and last for a short time (called acute pain), or it can be ongoing and persistent, lasting months or years (called chronic pain).

Acute pain

Acute pain usually comes on suddenly and is caused by something specific such as burns or cuts, bee stings, infection, broken bones, surgery, dental work and childbirth. The pain occurs for a short period of time (less than 3 months) and goes away when there is no longer an underlying cause. Acute pain can range from mild to severe and is important for survival as it warns us of actual or potential harm to our body.

The sort of treatment that you will need will depend on the cause of your pain. For example, treatments for sprains and strains include pain relief medication, R.IC.E (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) or a support such as a brace or a cast. Find out more at where is my pain.

Pain scale 0-10

Chronic pain

Chronic pain is pain that lasts longer than 3 months. It is also called persistent pain or long-term pain. It is often described as pain that does not go away as expected after an illness or injury. Examples of chronic pain include fibromyalgia, lower back pain and arthritis pain.

Read more about chronic pain.

What are the common types of acute pain?

Pain is often categorised by its cause or location. Read more about the following:

Learn more

Where is my pain? Health Navigator, NZ
Preventing and managing discomfort at work ACC, NZ 

Credits: Health Navigator Editorial Team.