Encyclopedia of Pain

2013 Edition
| Editors: Gerald F. Gebhart, Robert F. Schmidt

Acute Pain, Subacute Pain, and Chronic Pain

  • Wade KingEmail author
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-642-28753-4_75



Acute pain is pain that has been present for less than 3 months (Merskey 1979; Merskey and Bogduk 1994). Chronic pain is pain that has been present for more than 3 months (Merskey 1979; Merskey and Bogduk 1994). Subacute pain is a subset of acute pain: It is pain that has been present for at least 6 weeks but less than 3 months (van Tulder et al. 1997).


Acute pain, subacute pain, and chronic pain are defined by units of time, but the concepts on which they are based are more fundamentally related to causation and prognosis. This entry discusses what the definitions imply and the clinical significance of classifying pain into these categories.

Acute pain was first defined by Bonica, in his textbook published in 1953, as “a complex constellation of unpleasant sensory, perceptual and emotional experiences and certain associated autonomic, physiologic, emotional and behavioural responses” (Bonica 1953). Bonica...

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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Clinical ResearchRoyal Newcastle Centre University of NewcastleNewcastleAustralia