Pain is defined by IASP (International Association for the Study of Pain) as:
“An unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage or described in terms of such damage.”
Pain can be classified based on duration as:
This pain by definition lasts a few hours or days. It is protective in nature and helps protect against disease and injury. Causes a person to seek help. By understanding the nature of pain such as onset, location, radiation, relieving/aggravating factors, associated features etc., we can usually determine the cause and treat accordingly. A good example is the typical story of pain associated with acute appendicitis.
This lasts longer than a few days and up to about 3 months. The exact duration depends on the underlying cause of pain. If you had a major surgery or a long bout of illness, the recovery would be likewise longer. This, I would classify as the danger zone for development of chronic pain. In this time period, you and your physician should be on the lookout for possible transition to chronic pain. As discussed below, early recognition and treatment is key to prevent chronic pain.
Is typically defined as pain that continues to be present for greater than 3 months or lasts longer that the expected normal duration of recovery. For example, if you stub your toe, the pain should get better sooner than say if you suffered a fracture.
Monitoring pain that does not improve within 3 months is important given that early treatment of pain is the best way to prevent long-term, persistent chronic pain. Most low back pain, neck pain, sprains/strains etc., generally improve with conservative care within 4 weeks or so. Use your judgement.
People who have experienced chronic pain in the past, are more likely to respond similarly with new injury or disease. It would be wise to seek help earlier in this situation.
The most important step is evaluating the cause of pain. This leads to a successful plan of treatment.