Acute vs Chronic Back Pain: Differences, Causes and Treatment

Did you know that nearly two in five adults reported having back pain in 2019? Full-time workers miss two work days per year due to this condition.

There are two types of back pain: acute and chronic. In this post, we’ll explore acute vs. chronic back pain. Learn their unique causes, symptoms, and treatment options to be better equipped to address your back pain effectively.


What Is Acute Back Pain?

Acute back pain persists anywhere from a few days to many weeks. Normally, it goes away with self-treatment and results in no permanent function loss.


back view of a female patient experiencing acute back pain | acute vs chronic back pain

Acute back pain is often caused by an injury, such as a sprain, strain, or fracture from lifting heavy objects, sudden movements, or accidents.



Acute back pain is characterized by a sudden onset of sharp, intense pain that can significantly limit mobility. This type of pain may make it difficult to perform everyday activities, and it often worsens with movement.



A healthcare professional can diagnose acute back pain by asking if you injured yourself. They may also order imaging tests such as X-rays, MRIs, CT scans, bone scans, and EMGs to pinpoint the exact cause of the pain and guide treatment.


Treatment Options for Acute Back Pain

Ice Therapy

Ice therapy is most effective immediately after an injury to reduce inflammation and numb sharp pain. Apply an ice pack wrapped in a cloth to the affected area for 20 minutes with 1-hour intervals during the first 48 hours.

Heat Therapy

Heat therapy increases blood flow and relaxes muscles. After the initial 48 hours post-injury, alternate between ice and heat therapy. Apply a heating pad or warm compress to the painful area for 20 minutes at a time.

OTC Pain Medication

NSAIDs such as ibuprofen (e.g., Advil®) and acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol®) work by reducing inflammation, thus providing relief from acute back pain.


Rest is crucial for recovery from acute back pain as it allows the injured tissues to heal. However, it's important to balance rest with gentle, low-impact movements to prevent muscle weakness and maintain flexibility.

Chiropractic Care

Chiropractic care helps treat acute back pain by realigning the spine, reducing nerve pressure, and improving overall function. The benefits of this noninvasive treatment include pain relief, enhanced mobility, and faster recovery.



What Is Chronic Back Pain?

Chronic back pain lasts for 12 weeks or longer. Often, it is linked to underlying conditions. Injuries can also result in chronic back pain long after they’ve healed.


man experiencing chronic back pains | acute vs chronic back pain

Below are the most common causes of chronic back pain.


Osteoarthritis causes the cartilage between vertebrae to wear down, leading to pain and stiffness in the spine. This degenerative joint disease often results in chronic back pain due to inflammation and reduced mobility.

Spinal Stenosis

Spinal stenosis occurs when the spinal canal narrows, compressing nerves and causing chronic pain, numbness, and weakness. This condition typically affects the lower back and can significantly impact daily activities.

Disk Issues

Disk issues, such as herniation, bulging, or degeneration, involve the deterioration or displacement of intervertebral disks. These problems can lead to nerve compression, persistent pain, and reduced spinal function.

Myofascial Pain Syndrome

Myofascial pain syndrome is characterized by chronic pain due to trigger points in muscles. These sensitive areas can cause pain and discomfort in the back, often linked to stress.

Work and Lifestyle Factors

Work and lifestyle factors, such as poor posture, prolonged sitting, repetitive movements, and heavy lifting, can contribute to chronic back pain. These habits strain the spine and surrounding muscles, leading to long-term discomfort.



Chronic back pain is often described as a persistent, deep, or burning sensation. Comparing acute vs. chronic back pain, the latter can vary in intensity and is always present, even if it fluctuates throughout the day. This constant discomfort can significantly limit mobility.

Over time, the ongoing struggle with pain can lead to emotional and behavioral changes. Individuals may experience increased irritability, anxiety, or depression as they cope with the frustration and helplessness that often accompany chronic pain. This emotional toll can further impact relationships, work performance, and overall quality of life.



Like acute back pain, chronic back pain is diagnosed through medical interviews and imaging tests.


Treatment Options for Chronic Back Pain

Prescription Pain Medication

While OTC pain medications are suitable for mild to moderate pain, prescription drugs are used for more severe cases. However, they come with risks such as dependency and cognitive dysfunction. It's crucial to take these medicines as prescribed to manage pain effectively while minimizing risks.

Chiropractic Care

man receiving regular chiropractic adjustments for chronic back pain focus on long-term spinal health and functionality | acute vs chronic back pain

Regular chiropractic adjustments for chronic back pain focus on long-term spinal health and functionality. The benefits extend beyond immediate pain relief; they promote sustained mobility, enhance quality of life, and prevent future spinal issues through continuous maintenance and proactive care.

Corrective Exercises

Corrective exercises strengthen weak muscles, improve flexibility, and correct posture. These exercises help alleviate pain by restoring balance and proper movement patterns.

Massage Therapy

Massage therapy helps treat chronic back pain by loosening tight muscles, improving blood circulation, and reducing inflammation. This therapy can lead to significant pain relief, enhanced relaxation, and improved range of motion, making it easier to perform daily activities without discomfort.

Lifestyle Changes

Adopting certain lifestyle changes can play a crucial role in managing chronic back pain.

  • Avoid inflammatory foods that increase pain. These include sugars, refined carbs, and processed foods.
  • Try meditating to manage stress.
  • Get enough sleep to accelerate healing.
  • Stay active. Even low-impact exercises can help improve flexibility and strength, reducing the burden on your back and preventing further pain.

Surgical Options

Surgery might be necessary for chronic back pain when conservative treatments fail to provide relief or if there's a structural issue causing severe symptoms. It aims to correct these underlying problems, offering a chance for long-term pain relief and improved function.



Differentiating acute vs. chronic back pain is significant as it guides appropriate treatment strategies and management plans. It allows you to receive tailored interventions that not only manage pain effectively but also enhance your overall quality of life and reduce its impact on your well-being.

The team at North East Chiropractic Center, led by Dr. Adam Osenga, specializes in personalized treatments for acute and chronic back pain. We offer state-of-the-art facilities and comprehensive care that focuses on nonsurgical approaches, such as chiropractic care and massage therapy, to alleviate pain and improve spinal health.

Ready to find relief from back pain? Book a consultation today and start your journey towards a pain-free life.

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