Coastal Orthopedics rehabilitation specialist educates patients on how to differentiate between acute and chronic pain

Pain is a universal experience.

At one point or another in your life, it’s almost guaranteed that you’re going to feel some level of pain. This pain may be attributed to aging, injury, lifestyle choices or illness, among other factors, and might last anywhere from a few days to several years.

There are three categories of pain — acute, subacute and chronic — and everyone reacts to pain differently. If you’re experiencing pain, it’s important to understand where the pain is coming from, the severity and what you can do to manage it.

So how do you distinguish the different levels of pain? When it comes to characterizing pain, it’s important to note how long the pain has persisted. Acute pain is any type of pain that has been present for three months. Muscle strains, back strains and pinched nerves are some of the most common types of acute pain.

Subacute pain is defined as pain that’s been present for three to six months while chronic pain is any pain that lasts beyond six months. Patients with chronic pain typically suffer from arthritis, specifically in the knee, hip or spine that has developed over time.

“The experience of pain is common,” says Dr. Laura Ottaviani, a rehabilitation specialist with Coastal Orthopedics. “Everyone will be exposed to it at some time in their life, understanding the source will direct us in management.”

Coastal Orthopedics will see patients with all acute orthopedic problems; Dr. Ottaviani routinely tends to see those patients with spinal pain involving the neck and back or those who have experienced sudden weakness, numbness or shooting pain in the arms, legs, shoulders or hips.

The acute pain program allows patients to get in to see the doctor as soon as possible. “The program operates like an urgent care for orthopedics,” says Dr. Ottaviani. “It is a service that will offer patients with less severe problems reassurance and education. For those with more severe problems, it provides immediate referrals for diagnostic testing, injections, nerve tests, therapy and surgical evaluation, if needed.

Dr. Ottaviani thoroughly assesses a patient’s condition based on the patient’s history, performing a physical exam and determining the need for diagnostic testing.

As a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist, her training focuses on restoring function. Treatment options to help ease a patient’s pain include muscle and joint injections, physical therapy, bracing, anti-inflammatories and muscle relaxants. The goal is to optimize conservative care to get them back to their typical lifestly.e

“Dr. Ottaviani is a star,” says Cornelia F., a patient of Dr. Ottaviani’s. “She is extraordinary. The profession should reward more like her. It would renew belief and trust we so sorely need.”

A lot of patients hear “pain management” and automatically think narcotics, but there are many other ways to manage someone’s pain. Coastal Orthopedics’ pain management physicians will focus on finding the root of the cause for pain and employ other non-narcotic treatments to eliminate the source.

“Depending on the level of pain, there are different ways to manage it,” says Dr. Ottaviani. “Acute pain requires just as much time in terms of education as chronic pain. If we can capture patients during the acute phase, help them understand where the pain is coming from and help them focus on what they can do to feel better, then their orthopedic problem is less likely to become chronic.”

Whether it’s something as simple as a thigh bruise suffered during a pickup game of basketball or a more complicated cause, such as a pinched nerve or broken bone, it’s important to be seen by an orthopedic physician as soon as possible even if the pain hasn’t progressed to a chronic level.

Although as with any medical condition, there’s a progression involved. Even acute pain will not go away immediately, so it’s important to educate patients on the various red flags associated with acute pain and how to prevent chronic pain in the future.

The key is preventive maintenance. As we age, our lifestyle tends to become more sedentary as we spend more time sitting behind a desk or traveling in the car. As a result, our muscles become weaker and tighter because we’re not engaging them liked we used to.

One of the easiest ways to improve muscle strength is through stretching and exercise, such as yoga, Pilates or a boot camp. As little as 20 minutes a day, three to four days a week can have a profound impact on your overall health.

“We really don’t understand how debilitating pain is until we hurt ourselves,” says Dr. Ottaviani. “When we are unable to go about our normal day because we can’t control our body, it is pretty frightening. It is important to heal the mind through education and as much as the body. If health care providers take the time during the first few office visits to educate, a patient is more likely to follow through with the treatment plan and more quickly get back to their usual lifestyle.”