What is the absolute worst type of pain? I see it all the time in the Emergency room, on a scale of 1-10 where’s your pain level at? But what truly is the most excruciating type of acute pain one can experience?
Here are 5 of the most off-the-chart painful pains a person can experience.
1. Kidney Stones
Medically known as Nephrolithiasis, having kidney stones is unimaginably painful and to paint a pretty picture for you it’s often compared to the pain of getting stabbed with a knife. And get this It’s estimated that 12% of Americans for instance will develop a kidney stone in their lifetime.
Not fun would be the biggest understatement of the year. You see these small crystalline pebbles form in the kidney or urinary tract. Aka- the body’s drainage system area for removing urine from your body. And boy are they painful. Usually made from either calcium, struvite, uric acid, and cysteine they block the flow of urine, making the kidney swell and causing waves of sharp pain at the mid-back, abdomen, or sides. And for dudes, pain at the end of their penis as well. And that’s all my friends, kidney stones often result in fever, blood, and pus in the urine and vomiting.
Now, once a kidney stone is confirmed, treatment with IV fluid and medication allows the stone and the pain to hopefully pass sooner rather than later. Now when I say pass. I mean yes you basically have to give birth to this hard pellet via your urethra.
Though stubborn small kidney stones can be broken up with shock wave therapy, or lithotripsy. And larger stones may call for more complex treatments like surgery. Usually, kidney stones are fairly small in size, maybe under the size of a pea, but even a grain of rice stuck in your ureter, you don’t want it, believe me, I see it. Oh and according to the Guinness book of world records, the largest kidney stone ever recorded was over 5 inches at its widest point. A golf ball in comparison is just under 2 inches.
Did I mention that nearly half a million people visit the emergency department each year with these painful bladder boulders? You’ll want to avoid it like the plague if you can but possible causes include not drinking enough water, obesity, weight loss surgery, eating food with too much salt or sugar, or too much fructose. Infections and family history might all increase the risk of developing a kidney stone. If you’re one of the poor souls out there who’s ever had a kidney stone, let me know in the comments on a scale of 1-10 how painful it actually was.
2. Trigeminal Neuralgia
Often described as lightning hitting your face, let me say that again, often described as lightning hitting your face, trigeminal neuralgia is sudden attacks of severe, shooting facial or head pains that can be so debilitating a patient is unable to do anything at all while this excruciating nerve pain is happening.
Sounds crazy Scary and painful for sure, but what causes this severe shock therapy to the head? Well, when the trigeminal or 5th cranial nerve, one of the most widely distributed nerves in the head is disrupted in some way. For instance, a blood vessel could be pressing on it as it exits the brainstem, causing the wearing away or damage to the protective coating around the nerve (the myelin sheath).
These, let’s call them “lightning strikes” or severe types of symptoms can happen in people with multiple sclerosis, nerve compression from a tumor, arteriovenous malformation, which is a tangle of arteries and veins. Or even perhaps because of saying a sinus surgery, oral surgery, stroke, or facial trauma.
Did I mention that this extreme, sporadic, sudden burning, or shock-like facial pain that could even be set off by something as light as a gush of air or brushing one's teeth and last anywhere from a few seconds all the way up to an hour or two? Yeah and not to keep piling on to the bad news pile but there is no cure for it either. Although it can be managed with therapy and meds.
An estimated 1 in 20,000 people will experience this type of physically and mentally incapacitating pain. And for some reason, it tends to be more common in women than men.
3. Giving Birth
They say giving birth to a child is supposed to be one of the best days of your life. Well, what if I told you it can also be one of the most extremely painful sensations one can experience in their lifetime. I see it all the time in the Emergency Department. Here let me set the stage real quick, recently reproductive studies came out and compared menstrual cramps to be as painful as a heart attack. Now, what if I told you that labor and delivery for some have been described as the most extreme menstrual cramps. Aka pain scale- Heart attack on steroids. Though not in the chest.
Labor and delivery in a nutshell is the ending portion of pregnancy where a baby leaves the uterus passing through the vagina either “naturally” or via c-section.
During this time one’s uterine muscles start contracting hard, with severe cramping in the abdomen, back, legs, and groin area, tightening up, squeezing, pulling, and feeling like someone or something has just twisted your insides. It’s not pretty. And that's if there are no complications or tearing that could happen. Oh and this whole pain-filled process on average they say the active labor lasts somewhere between 4 to 8 hours but some go longer.
Alright, this is not to scare anyone off from having kids one day but it's just to have an honest discussion about how painful and complex this process can be for expectant mothers out there. Now luckily if a patient decides there are ways to try and relieve some of the pain. Non- medication methods include trying different delivery positions, walking, warm compresses, applying counter pressure, and breathing techniques. Or for those who opt for it there are pain medications and epidurals to help ease some of the pain.
Despite how painful it seems to be, luckily we’re all here thanks to our parents. Let me know if you or someone you know was given birth and what their pain experience was like.
4. Broken Femur
Speaking of babies, our next painful experience may make you cry like one when you find out just how truly agonizing it is. Yes, I’m talking about a Femur Fracture. I think we can all agree that breaking any bone royally sucks but breaking the longest and strongest bone in your body. Not something you would wish on your worst enemy.
You see, your femur is located in your thigh and it runs from the hip bone all the way down to the knee. Plus all the large arteries that run down your leg as well, let’s just call it a perfect storm for a bloody mess if you break your femur. Now, usually caused by some sort of severe accident like a sports injury or car crash, when one fractures this area, you cannot put any weight on the injured leg, let alone walk on it. Any sort of movement in this area will result in immediate screaming.
Also, you got the bone break, which is not fun but also think of all of the muscles that are attached in this area. Sometimes when patients come into the ER, I have to…
(cut the muscle or adlib portion about the muscle here)
So what is the recovery process like? To be honest it's a long one. 4-6 months I'd say at least. And it's broken up in different phases with lots of pain management. You have to first set the bone back into its proper place, with surgery to have some hardware put in. And while the body is regenerating new bone growth and battling the inflammation associated with all of this, we also highly recommend physical therapy to strengthen the muscles around the bone. If you want me to do a full video on the most painful broken bones you can experience let me know that too in the comments below.
5. Corneal Flash Burn
You know when you’ve had a really long day at the beach and your body turns red like a lobster. Maybe you even get so sunburned that blisters start to form. How much that hurts, right?
Now imagine all of that but in your eye. I'd say it's excruciating enough to make a grown person cry, but honestly, crying only makes it worse.
Now the cornea of the eye is the clear, outer part of the eye that helps your eye to focus light so you can see clearly. Now imagine a flash burn to the eye so bad it basically just singes it all. Say goodbye to 3-D glasses and seeing for a bit and hello to Eye-patches because Bloody, pusie and painful are only the beginning.
Usually, when I treat or see corneal flash burns in the ER they are caused by things like welding torches, being exposed to too much bright Ultraviolet light, lasers, tanning bed lights, and snow reflection even when skiing or snowboarding. But even Looking directly at or near the sun, especially at higher elevations can cause your cornea to burn. No your parents weren't lying when they said don’t look directly at the sun for long periods of time. This can in fact fry your cornea.
Now here’s the tough part about treating a corneal flash burn. Just as your eyes sort of start to heal themselves, anytime a patient blinks their eye or opens and closes their eye, it kind of basically sluffs off any sort of healing layer that occurred. Restarting the whole painful healing process. When we treat this obviously first artificial tears, medications, and pain meds to help prevent infection and to try and prevent your eyelid from sticking to your eye. In severe cases, surgery may also be needed to repair the area. So remember especially if you are welding or doing anything with a large amount of UV light, definitely wear eye protection, you do not want to have to come to visit me in the ER with a cooked cornea I can assure you.
How to Manage Pain?
Alright, now it's time to talk about pain management and how to manage the pain. Now obviously pain is subjective and really depends from person to person and of course the severity of the condition you are suffering from but if you or someone you know is experiencing pain, there should be ways hopefully to find some sort of relief. Now, If you are experiencing a medical emergency or sudden onset of severe acute pain obviously go to the hospital immediately, but if this is a chronic pain condition that comes and goes over time may see a pain specialist or a doctor that really knows the ins and outs of the exact ailment or condition should be considered. That way you can get to the root of the problem rather than just masking the pain with say medications. Don’t give up on finding relief and be proactive for your own health.