These are the 20 most painful conditions according to health officials

Sad girl with headache. Young redhead woman feeling pain, lying on sofa at home
Sad girl with headache. Young redhead woman feeling pain, lying on sofa at home
  • Shingles, heart attacks and kidney stones are some of the most painful conditions, according to the UK's NHS
  • While pain is subjective, these conditions are universally considered to be extremely painful
  • It's important to see a healthcare professional when experiencing chronic pain

Imagine the worst the pain you've ever felt – then imagine experiencing it almost every day of your life.

This is the reality for many people with chronic pain conditions. 

While pain can be subjective, depending on each person's tolerance levels and certain other external factors, there are some pains that are universally horrible, and the UK's National Health Service (NHS) drew up a list of the 20 most painful conditions you can experience, as reported by Express. 

(Remember, if you're struggling with recurring pain for days at a time, it's important to see a healthcare professional.)

READ | Furry seal robot helps reduce pain and makes you happier 


Also known as herpes zoster, it is a painful rash caused by the chickenpox virus that can be reactivated later in life. 

It normally looks like small, red blisters on the skin which eventually turn crusty before disappearing.

Cluster headaches

A rare type of headache that feels like your face is melting off, it normally starts in the eye area as minor pain before spreading to half of your face.

No one really knows what causes it, and it differs from migraines in that the person can't sit still – and lying down makes it worse.

Frozen shoulder

This happens when a shoulder joint becomes stiff and painful with movement, normally as a result of e.g. a previous injury or surgery, stroke, diabetes or rheumatic disease. 

It can take up to 18 months to recover fully, and some may not recover at all if they lose more than 50% of mobility.

Broken bones

There are many ways to break a bone. It can result from a variety of activities and can be accidental or on purpose.

Bones in the legs and arms are the most commonly broken, and the most painful breaks can be the shinbone, collarbone or pelvis. 

SEE | What broken bones look like 

Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS)

This chronic condition involves a long-term constant pain that normally attacks a limb after an injury, usually with greater pain than is warranted by the type of injury. 

Scientists believe it's caused by damage to the nervous system that's misfiring pain signals to the brain, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke in the US.

Heart attack

A common medical emergency, this happens when the arteries in the heart are blocked by a blood clot. 

Symptoms include chest pain or a crushing discomfort, like a tight band around the chest, or an ache in the centre of the chest. 

Slipped disc

Our spines are made up of vertebrae, each with a small disc in between, made up of gel inside a tough membrane. 

A slipped disc occurs when the gel is bulging outwards or is extruding through a tear in the membrane, causing severe back pain.

Sickle cell disease

It's a genetically inherited blood disorder where there's a shortage of red blood cells, which causes anaemia.

It causes lowered oxygen in the blood, and painful episodes can occur when abnormally shaped red blood cells get stuck in blood vessels. 


The chronic condition causes painful inflammation in the joints all over the body.

There is no cure, and it affects women more than men.


This is a common type of vascular headache, and while about 20% of the population will experience it sometime during their life, some people struggle with chronic, debilitating migraines.

Most migraine pain originates in the arteries of the scalp or from the jaw and neck muscles and can be triggered by many different things like chocolate, stress and lack of sleep.

READ MORE | Why meds may not prevent migraines in kids 


It involves leg and back pain caused by a pinched nerve resulting from a herniated disc, spondylolisthesis or foraminal stenosis.

Normally it attacks adults between the ages of 25 and 45 years of age and can take up to three months to heal.

Kidney Stones

These horrible excretions crystallise in the kidney, often as a result of consuming too much salt and not enough water. 

In order to get rid of these stones, you have to wait until they pass through your urinary tract, which can be incredibly painful. They can also sometimes be broken up with ultrasound, or surgically removed.    


Everyone's born with an appendix, which has very little function in the body

Sometimes, however, the appendix can become inflamed and, if untreated, can burst, causing infection and even death.

Trigeminal neuralgia 

Another type of headache, it refers to the recurrence of a sharp, sudden pain in the head's trigeminal nerve, typically felt in the jaw.

It generally doesn't affect people younger than 50, and can last up to months at a time.

Acute pancreatitis

This is a medical emergency when the pancreas becomes inflamed due to small gallstones causing an obstruction or by alcohol abuse.

The symptoms include a sudden onset of severe abdominal pain radiating out to the back, with nausea and vomiting.

READ | Diabetics show higher risk of acute pancreatitis


This is a type of arthritis where uric acid in the blood crystallises in and around the joints, causing inflammation.

Toes, fingers, knees and elbows are mostly affected and it's generally linked to diet. Foods like alcohol, coffee, red meat and fish are best avoided when suffering from gout.


This only occurs in women, and occurs when tissue similar to that which lines the inside of the uterus grows outside the uterine cavity.

The endometrial growths respond to menstrual hormones in the same way as the uterine tissue, by building up, breaking down and then shedding. Since this tissue has no means of expulsion from the body, it develops into painful cysts or nodules.

Stomach ulcer

An ulcer is a sore that forms in the stomach when too much acid damages its lining, causing severe abdominal pain.

It's normally the result of bacteria and in extreme cases might require antibiotics. 


Fibromyalgia is a type of arthritis, and is a chronic condition that causes widespread pain and sensitivity in the muscles, causing great fatigue.

The causes are unknown, but genetics and environmental factors have been posited by medical experts.

Pain after surgery

Surgeries are normally quite invasive procedures, and once pain medication wears off, people can bear the full brunt of having been cut open.

READ | Stubbed your toe? Only real swear words help dull the pain

Image credit: iStock

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