What is pain?

Pain occurs when something hurts, causing an uncomfortable or unpleasant feeling. The presence of pain often means that something is wrong. The best judge of your pain is you.

What is the difference between acute and chronic pain?

Acute pain usually comes on suddenly and is caused by something specific. It is sharp in quality. Acute pain usually doesn’t last longer than six months. It goes away when there is no longer an underlying cause for the pain. Causes of acute pain include:

  • Surgery.
  • Broken bones.
  • Dental work.
  • Burns or cuts.
  • Labor and childbirth.

After acute pain goes away, you can go on with life as usual.

Chronic pain is pain that is ongoing and usually lasts longer than six months. This type of pain can continue even after the injury or illness that caused it has healed or gone away. Pain signals remain active in the nervous system for weeks, months or years. Some people suffer chronic pain even when there is no past injury or apparent body damage. Chronic pain is linked to conditions that include:

  • Headache.
  • Arthritis.
  • Cancer.
  • Nerve pain.
  • Back pain.
  • Fibromyalgia.

If you have chronic pain, the stress affects the body, producing physical conditions like:

  • Tense muscles.
  • Limited ability to move around.
  • A lack of energy.
  • Changes in appetite.

Chronic pain also causes emotional effects, including:

  • Depression.
  • Anger.
  • Anxiety.
  • Fear of re-injury. This fear could limit your ability to return to work or leisure activities.

Your healthcare provider will work with you to find safe and effective pain relief.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 12/08/2020.


  • Institute for Chronic Pain. Chronic Pain Syndrome. (http://www.instituteforchronicpain.org/understanding-chronic-pain/what-is-chronic-pain/chronic-pain-syndrome) Accessed 12/30/2020.
  • National Institute for Complementary and Integrative Health. Consumer Information on Pain. (https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/pain/consumer) Accessed 12/30/2020.
  • American Society of Anesthesiologists. Types of Pain. (https://www.asahq.org/madeforthismoment/pain-management/types-of-pain/) Accessed 12/30/2020.

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