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Acute Pain, Subacute Pain, and Chronic Pain

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Pain of recent origin; Persisting pain


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 went...

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Correspondence to Wade King .

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King, W. (2013). Acute Pain, Subacute Pain, and Chronic Pain. In: Gebhart, G.F., Schmidt, R.F. (eds) Encyclopedia of Pain. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg.

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