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Acute vs. Chronic Back Pain

Americans spend at least $50 billion each year on low back pain, the most common cause of job-related disability and a leading contributor to missed work. Back pain is the second most common neurological ailment in the United States; only the headache is more common. Fortunately, most occurrences of low back pain go away within a few days, but others can take much longer to resolve or lead to more serious conditions. Back pain is generally categorized as Acute or Chronic. Acute or short-term back pain typically lasts from a few days to a few weeks. Most acute back pain is mechanical in nature and is the result of a trauma to the lower back or a disorder such as arthritis. Pain from trauma may be caused by a sports injury, work around the house, or a sudden jolt such as a car accident or other stress on spinal bones and tissues. While acute pain is a normal sensation triggered in the nervous system to alert you to possible injury and the need to take care of yourself, chronic pain is different.

Chronic pain persists. Pain signals keep firing in the nervous system for weeks, months, even years. Chronic pain is measured by duration, pain that persists for more than 3 months is considered chronic. There may have been an initial mishap – sprained back, serious infection, or there may be an ongoing cause of pain – arthritis, cancer, ear infection, but some people suffer chronic pain in the absence of any past injury or evidence of body damage. It is often progressive and the cause can be difficult to determine.