Acute Pain, Adult

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    Acute Pain, Adult

    Acute Pain, Adult

    Acute pain is a type of sudden pain that may last for just a few days or for as long as three months. It is often related to an illness, injury, or a medical procedure. Acute pain may be mild, moderate, or severe.

    Pain can make it hard for you to do your daily activities. It can cause anxiety and lead to other problems if it is not treated. Treatment may not take all the pain away, but it may lessen the pain so you can move around and tolerate it.

    Pain is best treated with medicines and other therapies such as distraction, meditation, oils from plants (aromatherapy), heat, and ice. Treatment depends on the cause of the pain and how severe it is. Acute pain usually goes away once your injury has healed or you are no longer ill.

    Follow these instructions at home:


    A prescription pill bottle with an example of a pill.
    • Take over-the-counter and prescription medicines only as told by your health care provider.
    • Take the lowest dose of medicine for the shortest amount of time needed to relieve the pain.
    • If you are taking prescription pain medicine:
      • Do not stop taking the medicine suddenly. Talk to your health care provider about how and when to stop taking prescription medicine.
      • Do not take more pills than told by your health care provider even if your pain is severe.
      • Do not take other over-the-counter pain medicines in addition to prescription pain medicine unless told by your health care provider.
      • Keep your medicine in a safe place, away from children or anyone who could use it in a way that it was not prescribed.
      • Ask your health care provider if the medicine prescribed to you requires you to avoid driving or using machinery.

    Managing pain, stiffness, and swelling

    A bag of ice on a towel on the skin.

    A heating pad for use on the painful area.
    • If told, put ice on the affected area.
      • Put ice in a plastic bag.
      • Place a towel between your skin and the bag.
      • Leave the ice on for 20 minutes, 2–3 times a day.
    • If told, apply heat to the affected area as often as told by your health care provider. Use the heat source that your health care provider recommends, such as a moist heat pack or a heating pad.
      • Place a towel between your skin and the heat source.
      • Leave the heat on for 20–30 minutes.
    • If your skin turns bright red, remove the ice or heat right away to prevent skin damage. The risk of damage is higher if you cannot feel pain, heat, or cold.

    Managing constipation

    Your medicines may cause constipation. To prevent or treat constipation, you may need to:
    • Drink enough fluid to keep your urine pale yellow.
    • Take over-the-counter or prescription medicines.
    • Eat foods that are high in fiber, such as beans, whole grains, and fresh fruits and vegetables.
    • Limit foods that are high in fat and processed sugars, such as fried or sweet foods.


    • Rest as told by your health care provider.
    • Return to your normal activities as told by your health care provider. Ask your health care provider what activities are safe for you.
    • Ask your health care provider if doing physical therapy exercises to improve movement and strength can help you manage your pain.

    General instructions

    • Check your pain level as told by your health care provider.
    • Ask your health care provider if distraction, relaxation, or aromatherapy can help you manage your pain.
    • Keep all follow-up visits. Your health care provider will monitor your pain level.

    Contact a health care provider if:

    • Your pain is not controlled by medicine.
    • Your pain does not improve or gets worse.
    • You have side effects from pain medicines.

    Get help right away if:

    • You have severe pain.
    • You have trouble breathing.
    • You faint, or another person sees you faint.
    • You have chest pain or pressure that lasts for more than a few minutes, or if you have other symptoms along with chest pain, including:
      • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, your back, neck, jaw, or stomach.
      • Shortness of breath.
      • A cold sweat.
      • Nausea.
      • Feeling light-headed.

    These symptoms may be an emergency. Get help right away. Call 911.
    • Do not wait to see if the symptoms will go away.
    • Do not drive yourself to the hospital.

    This information is not intended to replace advice given to you by your health care provider. Make sure you discuss any questions you have with your health care provider.

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