Painful medical conditions
The worst type of pain? It’s whatever pain you personally suffer from. Ranking of painful conditions is fairly subjective, but experts and patients alike can agree: Certain medical conditions are especially excruciating.
If you’ve ever suffered from a kidney stone, you know why it ranks high on the pain scale.
For some women, intense pain in the lower back is an unforgettable aspect of childbirth. Often called back labor, the pain peaks during contractions and lingers in between, making it more difficult for women to push. It’s sometimes caused by the baby’s head position, with the back of the head pressing into the mother’s tailbone, but that’s not always the case.
With a gunshot wound or other trauma, a sudden and severe pain can strike a healthy person to a degree they’ve never experienced, says Dr. Asokumar Buvanendran, an anesthesiologist specializing in pain medicine at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.
Besides rashes, blisters and scabbing, shingles patients suffer intense pain. This occurs in parts of the body along a nerve pattern, called the dermatome, where the virus resides — often across the trunk. Unfortunately, some patients go on to develop a chronic condition called postherpetic neuralgia, with symptoms including deep or burning pain, extreme sensitivity to touch and numbness in the affected area, which can last for years if not addressed promptly.
Trigeminal neuralgia is a peripheral, excruciating pain in the face that can be triggered by an innocuous stimulation, such as a light touch, chewing, brushing your teeth or washing your face, explains Dr. Maggie Waung, a physician at the trigeminal neuralgia clinic at UC San Francisco and an assistant professor of neurology within the UCSF Weill Institute for Neurosciences.
Trigeminal neuralgia treatment
Certain treatments can ease or even cure trigeminal neuralgia pain, depending on the cause:
No surprise here: Recovering from surgery can be painful. But some procedures cause more postoperative pain than others.
As a source of agonizing back pain, an acute disc herniation — possibly caused by heavy lifting — is all too common.
Major joint osteoarthritis
When osteoarthritis invades your hips, knees or shoulders, every movement of those joints causes pain. Major joint osteoarthritis is one of the most common reasons patients come in seeking pain relief, Coleman says.
Headaches are painful in general, and cluster headaches are considered among the most excruciating. Typically, people with cluster headaches are painfully awakened in the middle of the night with stabbing, searing or burning pain on one side of the head, or facial pain around the eye or at the temple. The cause of cluster headaches is uncertain, but they may be related to the release of inflammatory chemicals, like histamine, that are produced by the body.
Degenerative disc disease
Patients often describe severe back pain as a gnawing, sometimes sharp-shooting pain that is unrelenting, Coleman says.
Complex regional pain syndrome
After an arm or leg injury — usually from fractures, surgery, sprains or immobilization — some people experience ongoing, excruciating pain from trauma to their peripheral nerves, a condition called complex regional pain syndrome. In other cases of CRPS, the cause is never determined.
Sickle cell disease
Sickle cell disease is a lifelong illness that affects more than 100,000 people in the U.S. and 20 million people globally. Although it’s classified as a rare disorder, sickle cell disease is well-known for the pain it causes.
Endometriosis occurs when tissue similar to that normally lining a woman’s uterus grows outside her uterus. Ovaries, fallopian tubes and tissue lining the pelvis are most often involved. As with normal uterine tissue, this abnormal pelvic tissue is affected by hormones released with each menstrual cycle.
Cancer bone pain
Bone pain from cancer can come directly from primary bone cancer itself or from bone metastasis, which is cancer that has spread to the bone from the original disease site in the body. Breast, prostate, lung and kidney tumors are among the most likely to spread to the bone.
The majority of spinal headaches result from a tear or puncture made during a spinal tap procedure. These are not accidental punctures — it’s actually part of the spinal tap procedure. Leaking of fluid from around the spinal cord can cause a severe spinal headache, Buvanendran explains. In some cases, lifting heavy objects can cause a vulnerable spot to tear accidentally.
Migraines can knock people out for days. Individuals experiencing a migraine suffer from an array of symptoms — not just pain in the head. Symptoms of a migraine include:
The emotional fallout from pain
Much like how a migraine can leave someone exhausted and weak for days, many conditions in which someone is prone to experiencing long-lasting or unpredictable pain can have major emotional consequences.
Mindfulness and pain control
Being stoic about any pain condition isn’t easy or always ideal.
Don’t give up
Pain should be manageable, so don’t give up on finding relief. In some cases of hard-to-treat pain, a pain management specialist might be able to offer therapies beyond what’s available from your primary care provider.
Most painful medical conditions
These acute or chronic conditions can cause severe pain and rank high on a pain scale:
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Update 05/30/23: This story was previously published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.