Back by popular demand, another show on unbearable pain, the one thing we all fear if we are not practicing masochists. In fact, it’s one of humanity’s common connections. Pain transcends culture, and while our viewers often disagree in the comments, pain in some ways brings us all together.
We decided to do a part two of this show not only because it was so popular the first time around, but also after reading your comments, we realized many of you think some other pains deserved to have been on that list. How many times did we see the words “Lego”, “testicle”, or “toe”? Hundreds of times, maybe even thousands. So, we thought we should give this another go, and add some new painful possibilities to scare you. Welcome to this episode of the Infographics Show, Most Painful Things A Human Can Experience – Part 2.
As we said in the first show, we can’t accurately measure pain, because, for the most part, the hurt is in the mind and body of the sufferer. Nonetheless, science has tried to measure pain, sometimes employing brutal methods. These days we use pain scales that start with minimal or mild and end with severe or even unbearable. Unbearable can mean just that for some people, and they have taken their own lives to end the suffering.
This is usually a result of what we call chronic or habitually reoccurring pain, not just a one-off, like someone poking a pin into your pupil. Pain forums are full of people discussing such unbearable pains, and testimony of the sufferers is the best place to figure out what hurts most, especially if many people tell the same story.
But we’ll start with perhaps something much lighter, only because you talked about it so much. This is the story of standing on Lego, or more specifically, a Lego brick. Does it really hurt that much?
Firstly, stepping on anything sharp, hard or pointed with the sensitive area of the foot can hurt a lot. Have you ever stood on an upturned plug, or a glass miniature of the Great Pyramid of Giza? (Ok, that’s a long shot).
You will yelp like a dog having the door slammed shut on its tail. The reason standing on a Lego brick hurts so much is because the underside of the foot has about 200,000 sensory receptors, and that tough piece of Lego doesn’t give way at all.
You could compare this to stubbing your toe, which can make you hop around for a minute, howling curse words you never thought you were capable of saying. As one scientist writes on Medium, your hands and your feet are the parts of your body that interact with the world, and so they are full of “nerve endings that provide sensory feedback to our central nervous system.” According to him, it is our feet that are the most sensitive because they will tell our brain when we are walking into hazardous areas.
Only standing on Lego or stubbing your toe isn’t like slowly walking towards dangerously hot ground, it’s a massive whack to these nerves all in one go. But he goes further in the explanation. Firstly, when you hit any area that is not protected by fatty tissue, it hurts like a *beep*, but he also says that because in the past it was your feet that would get cut or scratched easily, and sometimes become mortally infected, we evolved in a way that made them so sensitive. We need our pain to guide us through life. Remember that people with congenital analgesia (or insensitivity to pain) navigate every day on a tightrope and are forever getting injured.
So yes, these shocks of pain hurt a hell of a lot. But can you imagine if that pain was sustained? What if a Lego accident or the feeling of hitting your toe into a step, or even cracking your knee on the corner of a hardwood table, lasted for an hour? And what about a day, or even a few weeks? What if that pain just came back for twenty minutes every afternoon of your life? It’s chronic pain that really makes people suffer, the kind of pain you wouldn’t laugh at as you would after throwing that piece of Lego from the highest window.
There are plenty of people on back pain forums discussing what they call unbearable pain, so much pain that they can’t move even after taking strong pain medications. One person writes that when it first happened to him,
“It was so immense that I felt my blood pressure being affected. I was almost going to get unconscious.” On the website Spine-Health, a woman says she feels like she is constantly being tortured, writing, “I do think about suicide.”
There are many reasons you might have back pain. You might have slipped a disc, have a pinched a nerve, or you might even have cancer.
What about cancer, surely that hurts? Well, we are told that the most painful cancer is that of the head, the neck, the bones, brain, lungs and pancreas. It can be severe and debilitating. It’s said that the crippling headaches people with brain cancer suffer from cannot be made less painful with drugs in around 50 percent of people. One woman on a forum writes about her lung cancer, saying, “I have taken tramadol, steroids and diazepam, and have tried to use my heated wheat pack, but nothing is touching it.”
So, we know that lasting pain might not be the worst in terms of extremeness, but it surely causes the most grief. One of the worst things about cancer, of course, is that statistically many of us one day will have it.
Gout is also common, which is a kind of inflammatory arthritis.
This can affect those sensitive joints in the feet, ankles and knees and can get much worse over time. The pain can last for days, then go away, but then come back again…and again, for the rest of your life. The CDC has one adjective to describe gout pain and that is, “intense.” It happens when uric acid crystals form in the joints, causing them to swell. For the most part it is caused by unhealthy living, so lay off the booze (beer is the worst), sugary drinks, and keep your weight down. You might also just be susceptible to gout, though.
Instances of gout have shot up over the last 30 years, and the USA leads the way in terms of annual years of healthy life lost per 100,000 people. The arthritis foundation tells us 4 percent of Americans suffer from gout. The Guardian wrote in 2014 that 1.6 million people in the UK were suffering from it, adding, “It is excruciatingly painful and for the most part avoidable.” One person on a gout forum writes, “This is the most severe agonizing pain I have ever had to deal with. Even the slight movement of my leg a cm or two in the wrong direction results in severe pain.”
Sticking with the ‘This Could Happen to You’ theme (sorry about this) we introduce toothache. What?! You may be thinking, because we’ve all had toothaches from childhood to adulthood and it’s not that bad.
But some of you know very well that not all toothaches are made equal. The ones that hurt the most, called severe and unbearable, often require emergency treatment lest the sufferer go out of their mind. Forums are full of these people screaming for help, telling you no drugs, not even opiate-based pain killers, have even the smallest impact on the pain.
And don’t even think about sleeping, not even after days. As one person writes, “It’s hell on Earth.” And plenty of women on forums describe it as far worse than childbirth. These kinds of toothaches are often infections in the pulp of the tooth. We call this pulpitis, although there are different strains of this. A dental site tells us, “Activated enzymes, causing the breakdown of proteins, create pus, leading to severe pain in pulpitis acuta purulenta.” If left, the infection grows until putrefactive gases start to spill into the nerve tissue, but unlike other parts of your body the teeth can’t swell and so that is why people call the pain “extreme” or in the words of Motherboard, “The most unbearable pain.”
The nerves in there are all hooked up directly to the brain, leaving no room for pain amelioration. But the thing is, it doesn’t let up, and what feels like your head being shocked by electricity may get to a level leaving you on the floor squealing like a banshee. You might also get an abscess. Your options are root canal or extraction, because it won’t go away. Anyone who has experienced this kind of pain for more than one day will tell you they felt like ending it, or in less severe cases, knocking the tooth out themselves. A quick Google search reveals that many people have killed themselves over toothache. One man in the UK wrote this as his parting words, “I just can’t stand the pain any longer. Sorry. Allan.”
So, these are some terrible pains. You might be wondering if something like having your eyes pulled out hurts more. It’s hard to say, because the shock and the body’s response will react so quickly.
A woman in the US gouged out both of her eyeballs in 2018 while in church, apparently to ‘sacrifice her eyes’ to God. She’s now blind, and we assume no longer in physical pain.
It seems that the body comes to the rescue with all sorts of traumatic pain, releasing its own natural opiates and other chemicals to reduce the pain. It seems with chronic pain, though, the brain doesn’t have enough magic. As one doctor says, when we stub our toe the message is sent through the spinal cord to the brain and we hurt, but the brain then reacts to this abnormality by helping us out with pain relief. Unfortunately, for chronic pain there’s no answer, and as the National Center for Biotechnology Information writes, “Treatments for chronic pain are woefully inadequate.”
So, to all of you suffering from chronic pain, we hope you get better. For the rest of you, don’t think too much and enjoy the glorious pain-free moment of each day.
Can you think of other pains that we should have included here? Let us know in the comments! Also, be sure to check out our other video Most Painful Things A Human Can Experience – part one. Thanks for watching, and, as always, don’t forget to like, share, and subscribe. See you next time!