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.

If you have acute pain, go and see your doctor or nurse. For people with chronic pain, whether it is from arthritis, past injuries, illness or ongoing health conditions, there is often no cure. However, you are not alone and there are many tips and things you can do that really help!

Acute pain

Acute pain is pain that has gone on for a short period of time (less than 3 months). This type of pain is important for survival as it warns us of actual or potential harm to our body.

Examples of acute pain include pain from a broken arm or a bee sting.


No two people experience pain in the same way; however acute pain is often described as:

  • sudden
  • sharp
  • intense.

Depending on the cause and location of the pain, other symptoms might also be present such as:

  • swelling and heat at the site of an injury
  • bleeding
  • changes to the appearance of the skin e.g. bruising
  • the person may go into shock.

The type of test required will depend on the nature of the pain and suspected cause. Tests may include:

  • Examination by a doctor or nurse
  • Pain rating - you will often be asked to rate the severity of your pain from (no pain) 0 to 10 (worst pain).
  • Xray
  • MRI
  • Ultrasound
  • Blood test
  • Nerve conduction test.


The sort of treatment that you will need will depend on the cause of your pain. Common treatments include:

  • medication
  • R.IC.E (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation)
  • a support such as a brace or a cast
  • surgery
  • Occupational therapy  A short period of assistance around the home or workplace might be necessary. Speak with your GP, Specialist or ACC Case Manager about a referral to occupational therapy
  • Physiotherapy  Depending on the cause of your pain, it might be helpful to see a physiotherapist to regain strength, flexibility and/or fitness. Speak with your GP, Specialist or ACC Case Manager about a referral to physiotherapy

You can prevent injuries and illness from developing in the first place by:

  • Keeping yourself fit and healthy
  • Keeping up with required medical appointments and treatments
  • Keeping yourself safe – don’t take unnecessary risks and address hazards at work and home.

If injuries or illness does occur apply first aid from the outset. Learn what to do for common emergencies. Don’t delay if medical advice is needed.

Chronic or persistent pain

Pain that lasts longer than 3 months is referred to as chronic or persistent pain.

One in six New Zealanders live with chronic pain and no two people are affected in the same way.

Examples of chronic pain include fibromyalgia, low back pain and complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) and persistent migraines. In these situations, the pain is real but hurt does not equal harm to the body.


Everyone feels pain differently. Chronic pain is often accompanied by a range of other symptoms, such as:

  • fatigue, broken or unrefreshing sleep
  • anger, fear, frustration, worry or depression
  • reduced fitness or impaired movement
  • loss of independence.


Effective management of chronic pain requires a comprehensive assessment of the pain and its impact on your life. This may include assessments by a psychologist, pain medicine specialist, physiotherapist, social worker, or occupational therapist.

There is no one specific test or scan that can diagnose persistent pain, so it can often take some time to determine what is going on.


Living well with pain involves using a number of strategies, including:

  • taking an active role in your treatment - see the pain self-help programmes
  • identifying strategies to help you manage stress
  • a graded gentle exercise programme
  • tackling your worries
  • maintaining a healthy weight
  • as a family, learn about pain together and talk about strategies for difficult situations
  • making sure that there are pleasurable activities in your week
  • some people may find medication helpful, however others might not
  • beware of people selling wonder cures. Look for health professionals who understand about pain and can give you the tools to manage at home.

If your pain persists and is affecting what you can do, ask your doctor/nurse about referral to your local pain service, a pain specialist or pain programme.


Pain can affect us in many ways and can stop you doing the things that you want to do. It is normal to feel frustrated about the pain and the impact this has on you.

Depending on the cause of the pain and the impact that it has on your life, one or more of the following support options might be helpful in addition to the appointments that you have with your GP or specialist:

Family and friends — Support, reassurance and assistance from family and friends with daily activities can be very helpful while you recover.

Counselling — This can be especially helpful if your pain arose from a trauma e.g. a car accident. Speak with your GP about counselling services available through your GP practice. You could also phone:

Learn More

Preventing and managing discomfort at work Habit at Work, ACC
Safety begins at home ACC, 2009
Occupational Therapy Board   
Physiotherapy New Zealand 

Credits: Catherine Swift, Occupational Therapist, Waikato. Endorsed by the New Zealand Pain Society, January 2015. Reviewed By: Health Navigator