When Does Acute Pain Become Chronic Pain?

Woman with joint pain

Pain is disruptive, and ongoing acute pain can become life-altering. But when does acute pain become chronic pain? It isn’t easy to diagnose chronic pain. Typically, until you have been in pain for at least three to six months, acute pain isn’t diagnosed as chronic.

Joint Pain

The most common cause of joint pain is arthritis. However, injuries for sports, repetitive, or manual labor are also all causes of chronic pain. In order to diagnose chronic joint pain, your doctor will run diagnostic scans including X-rays or MRIs. This will give them better insight into bone and tissue health.

Back Pain

Before diagnosing chronic back pain, a variety of tests will be performed in order to find out whether the pain is caused by a tissue disorder or nerve damage. These tests could include X-rays, MRIs which can also reveal inflammation, and CT scans which can provide even more detail than X-rays.


This is a very difficult form of chronic pain to diagnose. Because many of the symptoms of fibromyalgia are common to other illnesses, there are often many tests needed in order to diagnose it. Some of these common symptoms include chronic headache, back pain, joint pain, or diffuse pain. X-rays, MRIs, blood work, neurological testing, and palpitation are all tests that should be expected for diagnosing fibromyalgia.

Headache Pain

Among the causes of chronic pain are eye strain, muscle tension, and even nervous system disorders. These symptoms are often associated with other chronic conditions as well. Early assessments might include ruling out disease, dehydration, or other abnormalities that are easily treatable.

Your doctor will likely ask questions about whether the pain is localized to one area, if it starts in the neck, when it is worse, or whether it causes sensitivity to light or sound. These questions will help to determine whether you might be suffering from cluster headaches, migraines, eye strain, or even muscle tension.  

Neuropathic Pain

This type of pain is the result of the constant stimulation of pain nerves. Initially, this might be caused by injuries, but the nerves can begin triggering even when there is no need or trauma. MRIs and CT scans are often used to aid in assessing this type of chronic pain.

Whatever the source of your chronic pain, what can be most frustrating is the time that it takes to assess your condition. However, it is in your best interest that your doctor is able to be as thorough as possible with their investigation. After all, you want the correct diagnosis in order to receive the best treatment for your chronic pain.

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