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Acute versus Chronic Pain

Pain Types

The International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) defines pain as an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage or described in terms of such damage. By this definition, pain does not HAVE to be associated with observable tissue damage or have a detectable underlying cause.

Pain is subjective.

If described by the patient – pain IS real.

Now, before you shoot the messenger here, let me explain the point of this blog series I am starting. An updated version of “Mechanisms and Management of Pain for the Physical Therapist” was recently released. As I was reading it I thought to myself “Are we using the proper vocabulary to explain chronic pain to our patients?” Why is this important, you ask. Because chronic pain works through a different mechanism than acute pain. And, the pain cycle we describe in the clinic tends to focus on acute pain. Which confuses people because they assume pain MUST be associated with tissue damage and we know that is false. So, it’s time to clear up the confusion!

Acute pain is a direct result of tissue damage and IS a symptom. When you sprain you ankle and the ligaments are overstretched, acute pain tells you to take it easy on the ankle and give it a chance to heal. This is a useful function of pain! Acute pain usually responds well and quickly to treatment including pain free movement, ice, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

On the other hand, chronic pain is not protective and does not serve a biological purpose. Pain is defined as chronic if: 1) it outlasts normal tissue healing time, 2) the impairment is greater than would be expected from the physical findings or injury, and/or 3) pain occurs in the absence of identifiable tissue damage. In VERY general terms, chronic pain is pain that has lasted more than 3-6 months. However, you must take into consideration if the initial injury was properly diagnosed/treated in the first place, if the condition has been given enough time to heal, or if an athlete is constantly reinjuring the same tissues.

If YOU need help understanding YOUR pain, please feel free to contact us here at Physical Therapy for everyBODY at (425)658-4944 or amykonvalinpt@gmail.com.


Dr. Amy Konvalin

Dr. Amy Konvalin

Struggling with pain and dysfunction can impact every part of our lives — it drains our energy, distracts us from our goals, and keeps us from the people and activities we love. As an Orthopedic Clinical Specialist, Dr. Amy Konvalin understands how frustrating those limitations can be — and she knows how to help get you back to the life you want to live! Beginning with a focused evaluation, Dr. Amy works to determine the root causes of your pain, as well as understanding how it affects the way you move through your world. Dysfunctional patterns of movement often grow worse with time and cause further damage if left untreated — so it’s important to address these issues as soon as possible. Dr. Amy knows there is no one-size-fits-all plan for success, and she partners with patients to identify their unique treatment goals and personal values. Using these goals as a guide, Amy uses her doctorate training in manual (hands-on) therapy and exercise prescription to treat patients with a wide variety of medical challenges and histories throughout the Maple Valley, Black Diamond and Covington areas. Dr. Amy is also a wife to a Boeing superstar/former C-130 navigator. While they lived in Germany, Dr. Amy was able to volunteer with the US Army to treat military personnel and civilians on base. She has two beautiful teenage ballerinas who keep her on her toes and educate her on all things ballet! Bailey, the princess pup, is her running partner and her napping partner. In the spare moments in between, Amy enjoys reading, yoga, wine with friends, Pilates, and walking on the beach.
Dr. Amy Konvalin

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