As unpleasant as it is, pain serves a very important purpose: it warns you that something is wrong or that you need to withdraw from what is hurting you. Acute pain resolves quickly, generally when you remove your body part from damaging stimuli. Chronic pain may last for years and greatly affect quality of life. Whether a pain is chronic or acute, there may be ways to get rid of it, or to at least manage it. It is estimated that $50 billion dollars a year is made on a global scale each year just on pain management medication. Some pains are so severe that withdrawing from the source of pain or treating it with medication won’t rid you of it. Other times, the pain comes from within one’s own body making it impossible to withdraw from.
There are several different types of pain, and in advanced countries like the United States and Canada, pain is the most common reason for doctors visits. Most of us will experience different types of pain throughout our lives. However, there is a selection of pain sources that are more extreme than any others, and are often described as “unbearable.” Sometimes, the person experiencing this pain never recovers from it. The pain may be so severe their body goes into shock, or completely shuts down. Some people live to talk about these horrific pains, and those who hear their stories can only hope they never have to experience it themselves. Here are 15 of the worst pains a human can ever feel.
Bullet Ant Sting
According to Dr. Justin O Schmidt who created the Schmidt Pain Index ( based on the most painful insect stings), the bullet ant has the most painful sting on the chart, at a level of 4.0+. Dr. Justin O Schmidt descried the pain as “Pure, intense, brilliant pain. Like fire-walking over flaming charcoal with a 3-inch rusty nail in your heel.”
Because it is the strongest and largest tendon in the body, when the Achilles tendon ruptures or tears it is said to be one of the most painful injuries in the world. It is located from the middle of the calf down to the heel (it’s almost six inches long) and it enables us to flex the foot, jump, run, and do most anything on our feet. When this tendon tears or ruptures, which often come from a sports trauma, patients say it feels as though they were shot in the back of the ankle. For severe tears, surgery will likely be necessary, but for more minor ruptures, intense rehabilitation will often be effective.
Animal Attack Injuries
Unfortunately, most people who are attacked by large animals like lions, tigers, and bears will not live to tell about the pain of these attacks. These huge and powerful animals deliver debilitating blows, bites, and scratches to the humans they attack. These attacks often leave victims missing limbs, large chunks of skin, and other body parts. One man who lived to talk about being mauled by a bear described some of his injuries as such, “a total of twenty-eight wounds, including a claw puncture to my right eye. One of my top vertebrae was broken in five pieces, and I would undergo multiple surgeries, including a skin graft from my back onto my scalped head.” Just one of those injuries sounds unbearable, let alone all of them at once.
Until recently, the pain of childbirth was something only women would ever truly understand. Now, a few brave men have undergone simulated labor contractions thanks to properly placed electrodes. Though we’ll never know if the pain they felt was as extreme as what women feel while giving birth (probably not), they sure act like it is. The pain of childbirth, while undoubtedly worth the beautiful result, has been described as feeling like their muscles are twisting inside of them, being stabbed in the stomach, menstrual cramps infinitely multiplied, having your hips pulled apart, or having their internal organs pulled out. Hey ladies, if reading this is making you feel bitter towards our male counterparts, check out #3 on this list.
Kidney stones are crystalline lumps that form in the kidney or urinary tract. Their medical name is “Nephrolithiasis” and they consist of either calcium, struvite, uric acid, and cysteine. People with kidney stones usually get a sudden onset of pain below the ribs, and the right shoulder. Along with being unimaginably painful, kidney stones often result in fever, blood and pus in the urine, and vomiting. These stones generally need to grow to 3 mm before they block a ureter, and when that happens the afflicted will experience waves of pain until the stone is either passed naturally, or surgically removed. Shocking fact: The largest kidney stone ever removed from a person was almost six inches wide. Yikes.
Most of us can relate to the pain of a headache, but cluster headaches are a whole other story. These headaches are a result of a neurological disorder that results in severe pain on one side of the head, typically around the eye. These headaches, which are NOT migraines, occur in groups over a period of six to twelve weeks, which give them their “cluster” name. Those who experience cluster headaches often say it feels as though a hot poker is being pushed into their eyeball, and usually occur a few hours after you’ve gone to bed. The pain of these headaches is so severe it has been given the nickname “suicide headache” for tragic reasons you can probably imagine.
Second Degree Burns
While it is natural to assume third degree burns would be the most painful, they are so damaging to all layers of the skin that there will be little to no pain initially. Second degree burns with deep or partial thickness, however, often affect almost all layers of the skin, but severe pain will still be felt. Second degree burns often appear to be wet or moist, and involve blistering and red and white patches. The pain of burns is often so severe the afflicted often go into shock or pass out. Because of all the areas of exposed and vulnerable tissue, infections are common following burns, and need to be treated very carefully to prevent further pain and damage.
Even though the tetanus shot is regarded as one of the most painful to receive, the condition it prevents is far worse. Tetanus is a bacterial infection caused by Clostridium tetani. When it enters the body, it releases a poison that causes the muscles to become painfully rigid. Tetanus is often referred to as lockjaw, because it commonly affects the muscles in the jaw and face, rendering the victim incapable of opening or moving their jaw. Tetanus most often occurs after a puncture injury, like stepping on a nail, in people who have never received the tetanus vaccination or don’t keep up with it regularly. This infection requires emergency medical treatment that includes anti-toxins and drugs to control the painful muscle spasms, and patients often have to be put on breathing machines until they recover.
Stonefish are a type of fish found in coastal regions of the Indo-Pacific who have glands at the base of their sharp fins that excrete deadly neurotoxins when they are threatened. True to their name, Stonefish can blend in with the stones on the floor of the ocean and become totally camouflaged. This means that people often mistakenly step on them, which results in an unbearably painful stonefish bite. The amount of toxins a stonefish will release is proportional to the amount of pressure applied to it. If it releases enough of its toxins, stonefish bites can prove fatal within only two hours. First, the victim will experience extreme pain and swelling at the sting location, and this pain and swelling spreads quickly. It also turns into delirium, nausea, paralysis, and seizures, and more. With immediate treatment and anti-venom, stonefish bites can usually be treated within 48 hours, although it depends on the severity of the bite. If the bite occurs in the chest or abdomen, it tends to be fatal. The pain has been so great that some people have been known to attempt botch self amputations of the affected limb.
Tooth abscesses are just as gross and painful as they sound. Abscesses can occur all over the body, but tooth abscesses are thought to be especially painful due to their close proximity to so many nerves. Thanks to tooth decay, bacteria enters the tooth and causes infection and swelling. Even worse, this infection can spread to the bones around the tooth leading to serious complications. Along with excruciating pain, those with a tooth abscess tend to experience fever, facial and glandular swelling, a bad taste in the mouth, and general uneasiness. Luckily, antibiotics often treat abscesses, otherwise a root canal or surgical draining of the abscess may be necessary.
The peritoneum is the thin lining that covers not only the inner wall of the abdomen, but most of the abdominal organs as well. When this lining is inflamed, it is called peritonitis, and it is horribly painful. There are different causes of peritonitis, including appendicitis, a perforated gastrointestinal tract, lesions, and foreign body reactions after abdominal surgery. Those experiencing peritonitis will generally experience rapid onset abdominal pain, fever, nausea, vomiting, etc. If left untreated, this condition is almost always fatal. When caught before 48 hours, most cases can be treated with a serious dose of antibiotics, rehydration, and sometimes surgery.
When a man experiences testicular torsion or a woman experiences ovarian torsion, the results are just as painful as you would think, if not more. When a man’s spermatic cord gets twisted, blood supply to the testicle is cut off resulting in a rapid onset of testicular and abdominal pain. With immediate surgery, there is a good chance the testicle can be saved. Ovarion torsion repair is the fifth most common gynaecological surgery, and it usually occurs in women under 30. When the ovary is twisted to such a degree that the connecting artery or vein is cut off or reduced, it results in serious lower abdominal pain, among other unpleasant symptoms. The ovary can often be saved if it is quickly surgically repaired.
A penile fracture, also known as “Every Guy’s Worst Nightmare,” is said to be one of the most excruciatingly painful injuries ever. Penile fractures are generally the result of blunt sexual trauma. This trauma leads to the engorged penile corpora essentially cracking and popping from the pressure, the way a bone would, although it technically is not a bone. Victims of penile fractures experience a sudden onset of horrific pain, swelling, and bruising. Luckily, if treated quickly (generally with surgery) the structure can be made good as new again, but the memories may take longer to fade away.
Dercum’s disease is characterized by multiple, fatty, benign tumors that grow generally on the trunk of the body. 85% of diagnosed cases occur in women, and they often tend to be obese. However, it has also been found in men, and people who are not obese. The pain from the tumors is so severe it renders some people completely incapacitated by it. These tumors can be burning hot and things as simple as showering or getting dressed can trigger extreme pain. The cause of Dercum’s disease is not known, and treatment generally consists of treating symptoms as they come.
It is commonly described as feeling like lightning is hitting your face, but trigeminal neuralgia, which can be felt almost anywhere on a person’s head, really originates from the trigeminal nerve’s function being disrupted. It is more common in females than men, and it is estimated that at least 1 in 20,000 people experience it. There is no cure for trigeminal neuralgia, however it can often be managed with therapy and medication. Episodes can last from just a few seconds to several hours, and in particularly nasty cases, something as light as a gush of air can set it off.