Pain is both a universal truth and universal dread. It has driven some men to isolation, others to suicide. And though it may take various forms — emotional, psychological, even moral — most would agree physical pain is the kind we feel the greatest desire to immediately end. “We don’t even ask happiness, just a little less pain,” said poet Charles Bukowski. So what are the most physically painful experiences? We, being Medical Daily, will focus on health conditions though we add a grace note of other sorts of suffering. In no particular order, we believe the following conditions provide the most excruciating of physical agonies.
Cluster headaches, which affect less than one percent of people, are marked by unbearable stabbing and penetrating pain, usually centered around the eye. These severe headaches occur suddenly and peak within 15 minutes. They run in families, with mostly men suffering from this particular pain.
Childbirth is so piercing a pain, mothers’ make a point of telling their children they ‘forget’ how bad it is… need we say more?
Shingles is a painful skin rash, the remnants of your childhood case of chickenpox. Generally it occurs among older adults, sometimes pregnant women, and usually affects just one side of the body, often the face or torso. Even wearing light clothes adds to the suffering.
Kidney stones are hard deposits that form inside your kidneys and then travels through your urinary tract. You ‘pass’ a kidney stone while urinating and generally the stones cause no permanent damage. However, those who’ve actually passed a kidney stone say you feel that hard little rock every millimeter of its journey through you.
Gallstones are another type of hard deposit, sometimes the size of a golf ball, that form inside your gallbladder — a small, pear-shaped organ just beneath your liver. On the same order as kidney stones, except these require surgery to be removed.
Tooth abscess, which causes a gnawing and shooting pain, is actually just a collection of infected pus, arising from a bacterial infection, in the center of your tooth. This worst of all dental pains requires, in many cases, root canal or wholesale removal of your tooth.
Trigeminal neuralgia, though rare, is a chronic condition affecting a nerve that runs along your face to your brain. The stabbing pain, which has been described as feeling an electric shock, becomes progressively worse over time for most sufferers.
Severe burns are painful, not only when they happen, but as they are healing. The most serious, a third degree burn, involves all layers of your skin along with fat, muscle, and in some cases bone affected as well. A second degree burn, though considered less severe, may be equally agonizing.
Fibromyalgia, which affects more women than men, is a widespread ache in the muscles that is accompanied by headaches and fatigue. It is debilitating in that it is chronic; a quarter of all people with this condition are unable to work.
A spinal tap, which involves the insertion of a needle between two vertebrae in order to remove a sample of cerebrospinal fluid, is notoriously one of the worst procedures you can endure at the hands of a doctor.
Torture is, by definition, pain: it is the act of causing pain as a form of punishment or as a way to force another person to do your will. The Latin base for this word means ‘to twist.’ Any form of torture, and please, please, please let’s not go there, simply hurts. Bad.
Finally, we end with initiation rites, which may include anything from teeth chiseling to circumcision. The coming-of-age ritual experienced by Hamish Blake, one half of an Australian comedy duo, involved placing his hands inside gloves filled with biting bullet ants.
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