There are two types of pain, acute and chronic. In acute pain, the computer functions properly, as it was meant to. With chronic pain, on the other hand, it is as if the computer has been affected by a nasty virus, turning previously healthy and needed mechanisms into overactive and inefficient impulses that disrupt normal function.

Acute pain is time-limited—usually gone within a few hours to days. It may last weeks to a few months, but it eventually goes away. Acute pain can be associated with fractured bones, sore teeth, bruises, cuts, surgeries and their aftermath, infections, and a variety of other injuries and conditions. It exists when there has been damage, and as the damage heals, the pain subsides and eventually resolves, and life returns to the way it was before. Acute pain is part of your body’s “response-to-injury” system, which causes you to try to put an end to the offending, pain-causing experience. You also learn from painful experiences and are less likely to do something that causes pain (although later as we explain addiction, you will see that this is not true in all cases).

Chronic pain continues beyond three to six months and has outlived any useful function. It should have gone away, but persists. It is the exaggerated response of the nervous system to damage, but also to other conditions and situations that occur in the brain. It is often pain out of proportion to the prior injury or damage. Sometimes a condition will develop for no apparent reason, and there is not even a clear physical basis for the protracted pain. This is not to say that the pain is in any way unreal or imagined. Some people’s bodies simply respond differently over time to certain conditions, damage, or injury. The result is pain that won’t quit.

That’s the worst news about chronic pain—though it may wax and wane, in most cases it doesn’t go away. Twenty-five percent of the US population is affected by chronic pain, according to estimates from the National Center for Health Statistics. It is one of the major reasons people go to doctors. As we age, there is a greater chance we will hurt as a result of damaging events, wear-and-tear, and deteriorating conditions.

This blog post is an excerpt from Pain Recovery – How to Find Balance and Reduce Suffering from Chronic Pain by Mel Pohl, MD, FASAM, Frank Szabo, LADC, Daniel Shiode, PhD, Robert Hunter, PhD; Published by Central Recovery Press (CRP).