Acute pain is defined as pain that comes on rather suddenly and lasts less than three months.  The cause may be known, such as having surgery, a ski accident, twisting a knee, or a lifting injury. The reason may also be unknown, like waking up with shoulder pain. 

Managing Pain at the Onset

At the onset of an injury, a chemical response occurs. This response often results in inflammation. During the first week or so after the injury occurs, you may experience swelling, redness, warmth, and varying degrees of pain. Your ability to function normally may also be affected. This is the best time for resting your injured part so it can heal. If you are too aggressive early on and push through the pain, your problem may last longer.  But if you rest too many days and are afraid to move, you may be setting yourself up for chronic pain that lasts for many months. The correct amount of rest depends on the severity of the injury. If it’s a mild injury, rest for 3-5 days. If the injury is more serious, it is best to seek help. 

Heat or Ice for Injury Management?

The question often arises of whether using heat or ice is best. There are sound reasons for both. However, the only absolute rule is not to use heat during the first several days of a new injury, especially one already warm to the touch. For acute pain, use ice for the first several days (15 minutes, several times a day).

Physical Therapy for Acute Pain

If your acute pain is severe, seek medical advice. Physical therapy is a great resource, especially for orthopedic injuries. Physical therapists are trained to help manage pain while incorporating modalities that can help speed recovery. You can often see a physical therapist (PT) much quicker than an orthopedist or primary care provider. 

Questions abound after an acute injury. Physical therapy can help you sort out many of the unknowns, including:

– Which activities are okay to do?

– How much pain is okay when being active?

– When to resume your usual activities?

– Which treatments or self-treatments are effective?

– What are the best ways to help decrease pain?

– How to keep the acute pain from turning into chronic pain?

Physical therapy aims to help decrease acute pain and teach how to keep similar pain from returning. PTs can treat you with gentle pain-relieving modalities, manual (hands-on) therapy, and exercises during the first few weeks.

As you heal and when your body is ready, your physical therapist can show you what muscles to strengthen or stretch, what movements to develop and how to turn your injury into a positive outcome, making you stronger and better informed.

At Alpine Physical Therapy, we treat acute pain regularly and are happy to help. If you are struggling with pain from a recent injury or trauma, reach out to schedule an appointment. Referrals aren’t required for the initial appointment in most cases.