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Physical Therapy for Acute and Chronic Injuries

Aches and pains are two of the most common ailments for individuals of all ages. Whether they stem from a recent injury or they’re chronic in nature with a nagging sensation that doesn’t go away, licensed physical therapists are experts who can help you address and treat the underlying cause of your pain for both acute and chronic injuries.

Physical therapy can be an effective treatment option in helping you alleviate pain, improving function, restoring mobility, reducing the likelihood of future injury, and helping you get back to doing the things you love most. Physical therapists help to address two types of injuries, acute injuries and chronic injuries. Take a look at what each type of injury is, how they compare to one another, and see how physical therapy can help you recover from acute injuries and chronic injuries.

What is an Acute Injury?
Acute injuries are injuries that can happen suddenly or are very recent. One of the most common ways that an acute injury can occur is due to a physical blow or traumatic event. Some examples of common acute injuries may include dislocations, sprains, broken bones, fractures, and concussions.

During an acute injury, tremendous amounts of pressure can cause injury to ligaments, muscles, or bones. Oftentimes, there will be immediate or sudden sharp pain which can be followed by swelling. Acute pain and acute injuries often last for a relatively short time frame up to around twelve weeks depending on the severity of the injury. One of the first steps to treating an acute injury is to follow the PEACE and LOVE steps: Protect, Elevate, Avoid Anti-inflammatories, Compress, Educate, Load, Optimism, Vascularization, and Exercise. From there, further evaluation is needed to determine the severity of the injury and to get on the proper pathway to a successful recovery.

What is a Chronic Injury?
Chronic injuries are injuries that happen over an extended period of time or from overuse. Over time, chronic injuries can develop due to poor form, excessive periods of force, and are the result of repetitive force that exceeds your body’s capacity. Chronic pain and chronic injuries may feel similar to acute pain with occasional sudden or sharp stabbing sensations of pain even though there isn’t tissue damage. Symptoms can also feel like they are in an isolate spot or can feel like they are spreading to other areas.

Some examples of common chronic injuries may include shin splints, stress fractures, tennis elbow, and achilles pain for runners. Chronic pain and chronic injuries often last for a period of longer than three months and can flare up when performing certain activities or movements.

Chronic injuries may develop as the result of previous injuries that didn’t heal properly or they can be the result of long-term lifestyle habits that were never addressed. One of the first steps in treating chronic injuries is identifying what the underlying injury is and what might be aggravating the chronic symptoms to flare up when performing certain movements or exercises. From there, a physical therapist will work with you to reduce pain, improve function, and restore mobility.

Acute Injury vs Chronic Injury
There are several differences between an acute injury and chronic injury. One of the main differences is the duration of the pain for individuals. Oftentimes, chronic pain will be a persistent pain that an individual deals with for an extended period of time and might flare up when performing certain maneuvers or after performing the same type of activity throughout the day. Acute pain on the other hand will often have a sudden onset shortly after an injury and the discomfort won’t last for very long. As the acute injury heals, the pain tends to subside with recovery and treatment.

Another key difference between acute injuries and chronic injuries is that chronic injuries may take longer to recover from. There are many things that can determine the timeline for an effective recovery for both acute and chronic injuries, as no two injury recovery timelines are the same. Chronic injuries often develop over an extended period of time, and as a result one of the ways that many individuals try to cope with the pain is by changing their behavior or movement patterns to try and avoid the pain. Over time, poor technique and form can creep in which can then develop into a separate injury down the road.

One of the reasons that chronic injuries can take longer to recover from is the need to retrain our bodies to correct the movement patterns that have developed which were used to compensate for previous pain. As a result, your physical therapist will work with you to restore proper technique and restore range of motion. In addition, as individuals attempted to avoid chronic pain, they could have decreased their activity levels or be anxious about getting back to pre-injury activity levels. Your physical therapist will work with you to rebuild that confidence and help you increase your ac