Though most of us out there are not familiar with chronic joint conditions, we are all familiar with small-scale injuries and muscular soreness. People with acute pain have small-scale injuries that heal on their own in a relatively short period of time. Acute pain injuries include muscle pulls, stubbing your toe, touching a hot pan, smashing your finger with a hammer, and stepping on a nail. Though these injuries may be very painful, they don't cause permanent damage, and symptoms usually go away in a matter of days. Doctors call these injuries acute pain, and it is generally the result of nociceptive (somatic) pain. With these types of injuries, joints tissues and muscles are pulled beyond a range they are able to go without causing some strain or damage. Acute somatic pain may involve any of the other tissues of the body as well, that because injured but not permanently injured. With acute pain, the associated discomfort and symptoms we experience are the result of the inflammatory process that occurs when we are injured. Any type of injury causes acute pain, at least initially.
These types of injuries may include soft tissue injuries, including the straining and pulling of the ligaments, tendons, and muscles due to a fall, heavy lifting, or accident. Though opinions vary as to the time intervals used to classify this type of pain, the consensus is that it lasts anywhere from a few days to up to six months. Any pain lasting for longer than six months is considered to be chronic pain.
Soft tissue injuries, such as muscle pulls, and sprained ligaments and tendons typically cause acute pain up until the moment when they fully heal. The problem, with soft tissue injuries, is that the joints and associated structures never fully heal and the pain might never completely disappear.
One of the characteristics of acute pain is that the cause and location of the injury causing the symptoms is typically known. You can typically locate or identify the root cause of the pain. If you had a muscle strain or spasm in your back, the area would become more sensitive when pressing on the muscles involved. If you had a knee sprain caused by strain of a ligament of the knee, the area around the sprained ligament would be especially sensitive. If you were to sprain an ankle, the area around the sprained joint would become more sensitive if you were to put weight on it or turn it a particular way. It is easy to identify the area causing the pain and to diagnose the cause of the pain with through a physical examination or radiographic tests, such as an X-Ray.
Though the pain may be severe enough to seek a medical examination, these injuries typically heal on their own without medical intervention. Yet acute pain is one of the main reasons for emergency room visits or primary care doctor appointments. Usually, acute pain conditions that involve trips to the emergency room include those for soft tissue injuries. Unless the injuries involve tears or ruptures of the muscles or soft tissues, or broken bones, the most doctors can typically do is assure that there are no nerve injuries or broken bones. The doctors may help patients to manage their pain with pain medications, or provide slings and other devices to help patient immobilize that joint, to prevent any further injury while the joint or soft tissue heals itself.