Pain is the sensation of discomfort, distress, or suffering associated with actual or potential bodily injury. Pain may be acute or chronic.

Acute pain

Acute pain is often a signal that some area of the body is injured or damaged. Acute pain is a vital protective mechanism that helps people avoid accidental injury, and helps signal important health conditions and direct diagnosis and treatment. Treating acute pain is humane, and critical to both establishing a diagnosis and limiting some of the body’s reactions to hurtful things. Appropriate pain treatment helps physical healing and recovery of normal function. Treatment of acute pain is often directed at treating the cause of the pain, as well as using specific pain mediations. Because the pain experience is so bundled with the emotional state of the patient, supportive interventions such as parental comforting, massage, distraction, games, and offering the child participation in their care are critical components in addition to pain medications. The primary aim of acute pain care is to reduce suffering while simultaneously avoiding serious side effects from pain medicines and interventions.

When acute pain is anticipated in advance, such as with scheduled surgery or medical procedures, a pain relief plan should be outlined for the patient and caregivers prior to commencing care. Families should ask questions regarding pain management if this is not addressed to their satisfaction prior to beginning medical or surgical interventions that might cause pain.

Chronic pain

Chronic pain is pain that persists long after the tissue injury would have normally healed and pain gone away. Causes are many and are sometimes related to ongoing medical conditions. More commonly chronic pain persists because nerves and the brain have ‘remembered’ the pain experience and continue to send these pain messages even after physical healing.

Treatment for chronic pain involves ensuring that no further bodily injury is present, then working toward greater function. Pain perception is heavily influenced by mood, emotional state, social interactions, and cultural experiences. Also, pain medications used for acute pain are less helpful with chronic pain. When prescription medications are used, these medicines are often used for improving mood, reducing anxiety, and treating other side effects of the pain. Therefore chronic pain care often avoids using the very medications that are fundamental to acute pain treatment. There is rarely a completely effective direct medical treatment for chronic pain in the same direct way that acute pain responds to pain medicines. The primary aim of chronic pain care is to focus the patient on wellness behaviors, strive for increasing normal functioning despite persistent pain, and using non-pharmacologic interventions to decrease pain, suffering and disability.