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Acute and Chronic Musculoskeletal Conditions Explained

08 November 2021

When discussing medical conditions, it’s always very important to use the correct terminology so that we can (a) make our own situations clear, and (b) properly understand the situations of others. An example of this is the difference between acute conditions and chronic conditions. Both “acute” and “chronic” obviously imply something serious, but what exactly do they mean? Below, you will find explanations of both terms as relates specifically to musculoskeletal conditions.

What is an Acute Musculoskeletal Condition?

An acute musculoskeletal condition refers to one that happens suddenly but only lasts for a short period of time. It sometimes also has a second meaning involving severity – i.e. that the condition is sudden AND severe (but still temporary). Roughly speaking, an acute condition will last days or weeks, as opposed to months or years for a chronic condition. An example of an acute musculoskeletal condition is a bone fracture.

What is a Chronic Musculoskeletal Condition?

A chronic musculoskeletal condition refers to one that develops over time and lasts for a significantly longer period, possibly even the rest of the person’s life. Unlike an acute musculoskeletal condition which may take the sufferer by surprise, it can often be seen developing early on or predicted to occur later in life based on key health/lifestyle factors. An example of a chronic musculoskeletal condition is osteoarthritis.

Can an Acute Condition Become a Chronic One?

Unfortunately, yes. While a patient will usually fully heal from an acute musculoskeletal condition, there are cases where the acute condition will lead to further problems and possibly develop into a chronic condition. For this reason, it is just as important to treat short-term conditions with physiotherapy as it is the chronic variety.

How Are These Musculoskeletal Conditions Treated?

Firstly, with expert advice regarding day-to-day movement that is designed, through forming better movement habits in the patient, to prevent acute conditions from happening again and to slow or arrest the development of chronic conditions. Note that if there is any mystery about the cause of a musculoskeletal condition, a physiotherapist’s assessment of muscles, bones, joints and nerves should quickly identify its origin.

Secondly, through manual therapy carried out by the physiotherapist, such as joint manipulation and massage. The purpose of this therapy is to increase the patient’s range of motion and reduce their current level of discomfort/pain.

Thirdly, via personally tailored exercise programs that also increase motion and reduce pain, as well as strengthening the patient’s body and making it better able to cope with the existing condition and less susceptible to additional problems in the future.

Whatever Your Situation…

At Glenhaven Physiotherapy, we treat both acute and chronic musculoskeletal conditions (and a lot more). Our friendly team has been providing high-quality, patient-focused therapy to Glenhaven and the surrounding Sydney suburbs since 1991. However, we also pride ourselves on professional development and staying up to date with the latest developments in the field. You can contact us by phoning (02) 9680 4960) or using the online enquiry form on our website.

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