injured leg and foot

Acute vs. Chronic Injuries: What’s the Difference?

Injuries can be physically painful and emotionally draining. Whether it is a sports injury or not, injuries can have a lasting impact. Generally, injuries fall into either the acute or chronic category, and this is the key factor of a physical therapy strategy. Read on to learn about the differences between an acute and chronic injury, and common examples and causes of each.

Acute Injuries

What is an Acute Injury?

Generally speaking, acute injuries result from one single traumatic event. These injuries are often the result of a car accident, a fall, or a rapid movement during an activity.

After the injury, the body may experience several negative changes. First, there is normally swelling in the affected area. This swelling is the body’s natural response to the pressure placed on this body part. The injury will also bring on immediate pain. This pain is normally localized, meaning that without movement, it will not travel to another part of the body. Our physical therapy team in Ronkonkoma can help to ease this pain.

runner with sprain

Examples of Acute Injuries

Acute injuries are common among both recreational and professional athletes. Most acute injuries fall into one of these categories, relating to muscle, tissue or bone damage:

  • Sprain Injuries: Whether because of external force or bending at an odd angle, sprains result in pain after twisting the ligaments. Ankle sprains are especially common.
  • Strain Injuries: After impacting the muscle or tendon, strains bring on pain and swelling as well. Muscle strains in the back are especially common during resistance training, especially lifting.
  • Dislocation Injuries: During sports that involve heavy physical contact, dislocation injuries are very common. These acute injuries knock the joint out of its socket, limiting the range of motion. Shoulder dislocations are especially prevalent.

Examples of Common Acute Injury Treatments

After experiencing an acute injury, prompt treatment is critical. Because they damage the muscles, cartilage, fascia, and potentially blood vessels and nerves, you should always treat these injuries immediately. A Long Island physical therapy office can both provide treatment and recommend in-home care tips.

First Step: PRICE

The PRICE method is a relatively simple way to treat acute injuries with minimal resources.

  1. Protect: Cover the injured body part to prevent additional injuries.
  2. Rest: Refrain from putting additional stress on the injured body part.
  3. Ice: Reduce swelling and begin the healing process with ice packs or ice. Do this in 10-15 minute increments.
  4. Compression: Support the injury with elastic bandages.
  5. Elevation: Control blood flow and reduce swelling by elevating the body part above the rest of the body part.


Following this initial treatment, you should seek treatment from a professional. A Long Island physical therapist can evaluate your injury, and recommend a course of action for full recovery. Treatments focus on a few factors, including:

With a balanced approach, a physical therapist will help patients to recover from an acute injury and enable the same level of physical activity as before.

raised foot

Chronic Injuries

What is a Chronic Injury?

Unlike acute injuries, chronic injuries tend to develop over long periods of time. For this reason, they are harder to diagnose and treat than acute injuries. Chronic injuries begin with very slight pain, which eventually evolves into more intense pain, especially during activity. Over time, these injuries could lead to consistent and intense pain. Generally, these injuries are caused by overuse, or improper use of a particular body part. Because chronic injuries are not immediately recognizable, certain lifestyles may actually cause chronic injuries to grow worse. A Long Island physical therapist can help to identify these injuries, and recommend pain prevention strategies.

Examples of Chronic Injuries

Because various sports involve different body parts, the likelihood of developing a chronic injury depends greatly on the specific sport. Sports that involve plenty of running are more likely to lead to foot, ankle and leg overuse injuries. Chronic injuries can also result from improper or overly aggressive training, without the appropriate resting period. Structuring your workouts improperly may also lead to an injury. These are some common examples of chronic sports injuries.

chronic injury
  • Runner’s Knee: Poor running form and running on hard surfaces may lead to runner’s knee due to continued high-stress movement. This chronic condition is not entirely specific to runners, and serves as an umbrella term for many similar symptoms. Regardless, pain in the kneecap area is a common injury among the running community, as well as other generally active people.
  • Tennis Elbow: Repetitive motions like hitting a tennis ball with a racket often lead to chronic pain. Tennis elbow is a form of tendonitis, or inflammation in the tissues that connect muscles.
  • Shin Splints: Shin splints are common among basketball and soccer players, resulting from force and inflammation. The most telling symptom of a shin splint is pain in the lower front part of the leg.

Examples of Common Chronic Injury Treatments

Contrary to popular belief, inactivity can actually lead to prolonged chronic pain. At our Long Island physical therapy office, we recommend that patients engage in light activity. Rather than completely resting the injured body part, the best treatment is physical therapy.

  1. Light movements and exercises that help the affected body part to heal should be the primary focus of the treatment.
  2. Yoga is designed to be comforting to the body and its muscles, and is another common treatment for chronic injuries.
  3. Proper posture is also essential. Finally, massage therapy helps to expedite the healing process.
shin splint

What’s the Difference Between Acute and Chronic Injuries?

The fundamental difference between chronic and acute injuries is the amount of time it takes for the injury to develop. Acute injuries happen instantaneously, while chronic injuries develop over time.

Looking for Island Physical Therapy on Long Island?

Through restorative physical therapy treatment, you can heal both acute and chronic injuries. With individualized attention, our physical therapists will help you to overcome these painful symptoms. Contact us for more details about this treatment process.