How I Describe Chronic Pain

How I Describe Chronic Pain

Last week, we challenged the readers of the National Pain Report to describe their chronic pain in two sentences. We received many dozens of comments—all of which were heart felt, some of which were longer than two sentences and some which really didn’t describe the pain as much as they described the frustration of the reader.

The idea of the “challenge” was to try and explain to someone who doesn’t have chronic pain what it feels like.

Here are just come of the memorable comments left.

Sharon Lynn

“My spinal column and back feels like a bomb exploded and I constantly feel the shrapnel from herniated discs.”

Denise Morris

A Cholla cactus is my attacker – or has it become my spine.


It’s a very big, strong man with a sledgehammer hitting my buttocks Nonstop, with the pain going down to my ankle, then the hot knife stabbing into my sacral joints and up my low back

Tracie Lundy

Imagine your legs throbbing like a toothache 24/7 and like they are burning 24/7. Welcome to RSD/CRPS!

Barbara Caldwell

Two sentences:

For men. My pain is like being kicked in the testicles every 15 minutes.

For women: My pain is like a never-ending mammogram while getting my teeth drilled unanesthetized.


Imagine angry bees under your skin stinging, electricity zapping throughout your body, relentless burning pain.

Ellen Lenox Smith

My pain lives in me is constantly knocking on the door to remind me it is in my life. My goal is to not be defined by the gnawing reminder it is there

Kathy Spain

My pain makes me think asking someone to slowly drive over my legs with a golf cart would make it feel better.


My pain is like an electrified ice pick stabbing through my back, nonstop.


When I was a kid the car door got slammed shut on my fingers. This pain is like that, except that nobody comes to open the door.

Barbara Snow

One part of my pain is like being bit all over by fire ants. The other will not allow me to sit, stand, walk, lay down, for more than 10 – 15 minutes at a time.


Imagine a demon, whose sole purpose is to destroy, torture and ultimately kill its unwitting victim, has taken up residency in your entire spine

Gail Kilman

When I walk it feels as if I’m walking on hot coals with shards of glass.

Denise Hedley

Imagine if your feet feel like thousands of tiny blisters all popping at once while at the same time, your feet are set on fire.

Ellen Agard

My pain is like a grumpy guest who won’t leave.

For a number of our readers, it was less a description of their pain and more of a frustration that someone who doesn’t have chronic pain will never understand.


Describing my pain to someone who doesn’t understand it, would be like Wearing a blindfold for 10 minutes and then saying, “I know what it’s like to be permanently blind”


I’m so grateful that you don’t understand my pain. I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy.

(Editor’s Note. We’d like to thank everyone who offered their time. For readers who don’t have chronic pain, maybe you, like me, learned something from this. We hope so.)

Authored by: Staff

newest oldest
Notify of

Hi. Pain started at 12 with braces hammered going in to my gums because I have short teeth. They even tied me down to hammer them in. Had to wear them five years of pain then pain of retainer ten years pushing on bone to keep in place my teeth then it broke. My teeth moved. Took more recent the back and hip knees and feet. The worst lately is selgehammer upper spine. Horrible I hollered a pain sound every hit. I was laying on my left side. I tried not to move because straightening my right leg triggered another hit. When I realized not moving did not stop those hits I thought move. So I turned to my back the selgehammering stopped. I usually ice my back , I call it laying on ice and put my feet ankles in cold water pale with three ice cubes. I do have pain meds. You know yes you know it is down right hard to deal with. (pain) Also neck pain like a rock it goes out of place and right shoulder too. My right leg drags and makes waking well I limp especially if I hurry or go very far. I drop things all the time and sometimes I decide I will pick them up at the end of the day. I am glad to find this site cause then it is not in our heads. Had to pop neck a few times while typing and many times I hit the wrong key .
Hand eye coordination .I hope we feel better try ice. I need a new for the back Bengay . Tired now and neck hurts. Bye. Be strong. Being in a pool may help. Always with a friend.

Denise Lemrick

From early morning to late night…. constantly feeling like the “TIN MAN” from the Wizard of Oz, then following a constant throb, stab, ache, needles, buzzing, feeling every titanium, plastic, and Cobalt component in both hips and knees with each step or move I make…Having to plan out and think about if I make one wrong move that most people take for granted when sitting down, standiñg upright, to lying down and moving during your semi sleep state. That snap crackle pop sound in my neck and spine when turning my head and feeling the HEAT run down the back of both legs until both feet go completely numb while taking a shower or standing in one spot too long…..then having these symptoms of chronic pain go “on repeat” every…single…day…all…day….all…night..for the last 15 years.
My body is literally betraying me and that’s the thanks I get for being a wife, mother, Surgical nurse, who took care of it all only to hope that if and when one day when my time came that I would receive the same excellent care that I poured out my whole life.
I’ve always been generally healthy with a healthy lifestyle….. BETRAYAL…..THIS PAIN WEARS DOWN YOUR MIND AND SOUL…Stealing everything…

Cynthia Hines

My pain is a deep bone crushing jackhammer in my Lumbar back, with an intense 300 lb.pressure all the time which gets worst as the day goes on. Then the sciatic feels like a hot sharp knife in the left buttock stabbing me down in my left leg right down to my toes.

Elyce. O''Leary

I did leave a comment. Don’t see it. But that’s ok. My lower and mid back are desintergrating. So I pretty much AGREE with all. I’ve said so many of the same. Like the medical will tell you….its the law. No. Its a reccomendtion by the CDC. I do get alot of my info from here. I got my 6th.pill back using knowledge from this site. THANK YOU. KEEP INFO COMING .


Shucks, I missed this article but as I was reading the replies I thought this shows that 2 sentences just aren’t enuff for many! NO disrespect to you, the staff!
I’m trying to think of 2 sentences that best describes my pain….Ok I thought of 2 but I will be bleeped.

Jennie Agard

I’m beset by a playground bully, teasing me with, “Nyah nyah nyah, you can’t do that anymore, and if you try I will beat you up.” And I try, because I won’t give up my life, and it does.

Linda Olds

I’ll add my description:
Sometimes I feel that ripping my leg off would be an improvement.

In addition, my back pain makes it difficult to stand up straight, and standing for any length of time makes it feel like there’s a knife in my back.

All of this is exhausting.


I wish I had seen this before. To explain my pain in 2 sentences : I feel like parts of my body are being fried like bacon. Pants and showers hurt my one leg just by touching it.

Pain feels like being kick hard all over my body 24/7 no stopping.


I missed this one, too. Everyday, I feel like I’m crawling out of a car crash accident. And then somebody comes up and slams me with a baseball bat. Once in a blue moon, on a “good” day, I’ll talk myself into getting groceries, although I have left my cart midway through it knowing that my arms, neck, and lower back won’t be able to load the car up and then unload it and put them away when I get back. Occasionally I’ll have a pain level of “7”. Those are the days I rejoice. I’ll try doing a ton of groceries, gardening, and making a bunch of food to freeze so I am taken care of on normal days. If it wasn’t for Vicodin, muscle relaxers, and Aqua Therapy, I’m quite sure I’d need home assistance. I bathe every 3 days, as the water from the shower is sometimes too painful to go through. I stock up on no rinse wipes for personal hygiene on the other days. 10 herniated discs (5 cervical, 5 lumbar), fibromyalgia, and arthritis. My neck is in constant agony, and I have severe sciatica that only goes to above my knee though. My right hip and buttock are major sources of painful walking, and standing over 10 minutes in one place is a sure way to exasperate my lower back pain. It’s tough for me to determine whether my neck is inner bone pain or muscle pain, as they both seem to scream at me 24/7. I get a little confused when asked how would you rate your pain. I mean, which one of the pains do they want answered? It’s like stubbing you toe, landing on a rock, and being stung by a bee all at the same time, then somebody asks, would you describe your pain as throbbing, stinging, or radiating? I can’t even believe that those of us in this type of pain have to stand up for the right to a little relief. When you go through this for years on end, opiates are a medicine, not a way to find a high. When did the DEA get a medical degree?


With 3 years of reduction tion life is not worth a plug nickel. As soon as they can’t or won’t see me in the 28 day cycle I am dead.. Why don’t you doctors get a union. Sissies all of you!


My pain is at the limit of under treatment. This government is going to kill me and soon. There are no doctors. Aching,stinging, standing. When the next reduction comes I am dead in a dirty motel


Jeannette M. you said it perfectly! Everything I do (or should I say can’t do) is dictated by my chronic pain caused by spinal adhesive arachnoiditis.
I have had this condition for 20 years now and over the years I have learned I have to plan ahead in order to be able to do certain things. For example, if I want to go out to dinner where I might have to sit for over a half an hour, then I need to make sure I don’t do anything physical at least 2 days before this dinner. Then if I sit very long during the dinner, then I pay for it later by spending the next day or 2 in bed, in pain. Some of this might depend on the weather, how much sleep I’ve had, etc. This is with my meds. And the people who see you at dinner, have no idea what you’ve gone through to be there. You just smile.


I am being put into a position of having a lesser QOL. Pain is my whole life right now. I am afraid if every doctor visit. Afraid to talk to my doctor about how much pain I am really in. I no longer sleep. I am put into the position of being the “go between” between the dentist and the doctor if I dare ask for pain medication for a pulled tooth. Currently I have 2 broken teeth and I am afraid to talk to the doctor about pain medications for my dental extraction because I need something stronger that a percocet. Why does someone I dobt know get to dictate my QOL? My level of pain relief? Why does a stranger get to decide if I can be comfortable, work, or enjoy life? How many years of my life will be taken from me?


I also missed the email asking for pain descriptions. My abdominal adhesions feel like a swordfight going on in my lower left abdomen. The only relief comes from opioids.


I wish it came in a T-shirt, because it can be removed and then a glimpse of living in the same mode is a little more clear then just being a complainer or drug seeker. We are all just trying to cope and push through, whatever that means for each of us!!!

Kathleen Gensman

My feet burn continuously, my legs ache continuosly, you can visually watch the nerves in my legs jumping out and in which gives a constant feeling of bugs crawling on them. Fire burning , tingling not pleasant or enough to make numb, needles being poked in everywhere. My low back has burning and sharp pain as does my cervical spine. Extreme pain behind my eyes giving me worse than a migraine head/eye pain. The biggest issue is this pain is al 24/7/365. Every second of every minute of every hour of every day! Sometimes I can calm it a little but absolutely nothing makes it go completely away. I have not had a painfree day in 20 years! Not even in sleep which I get very little of due to the pain and anxiety about the pain. So difficult to describe. Clothes hurt! A light gauze dress hurts! Bras are worse! I cannot make plans ahead because what I am capable of doing all depends from minute to minute on the level of my pain.


To Gretchen - please hang in there. Is there anyway you can move to another part of the country for better care? With cervical pain - most people dont understand that EVERY nerve & pain signal travels from our bodies, to our brains. When that corridor is damaged, the nerve signals go wild. Like driving a car where there is a major short circuit & the sensors have gone rogue. Dependent upon which nerve root is pinched or ‘trapped’ at any given moment, determines: if or how I can move, how intense the pain level is, if I can inhale, what stabbing knife pains or sunburn or numbness I have. It is ridiculous - I get it, but PLEASE reach out to someone to get you over the bad days or weeks. CPPs definitely need many different types of tools in our toolbox & distractions, etc.
I asked the people at the Calm app to create a meditation for pain ( I do mine laying down, not sitting)…. and they did! Insurance should pay for this, it helps! But of course they won’t, it doesn’t come in pill form. We are here Gretchen


I second Jeannete’s comment. I completely understand that! The only way I can joke about it (only on a good day) is to say: “at least it’s never boring.” I never know exactly what I do to make my neck go out of alignment. When that happens all bets are off & the pain party begins, from mid-thoracic & up. Fun, fun, fun. Bless all of you - my fellow pain Warriors. Truly, we are amazing.

Jeannette mastenbrook

I just wanted to add a comment on how i dont plan my life my pain plans it for me!!!


The treatment plan:


I missed this but wished I would have contributed. All of them were descriptive but I do not think you can really put it in words sometimes. Shall I say, non describable.

Gretchen Freeman

So sorry too all God Bless you! I did not see this post wish I had If I would hhave I would have said II don’t think I can do it in two sentences I have more then one kind of pain like many pain patients. I Have said too family members that the spasms in my neck Are like having a constant Charles horse that never lets up. I’v also said too them you know when your foot falls asleep and how it hurts when it’s waking again but it never wakes up it just stays like that and you know when you get the flu and you ache all over these are only a description of three of the pains I feel. This was a hard challenge for most of us I certainly understand why you received a lot of responses that were longer then two sentences because most of us have many different kinds of pain too many too describe in 2 sentence and this is my main problem with all these rules for not prescribing multiple medications I used too have medications too cover all my many different kind of pain now we are all like a factory assembly line give us all the same thing and leave parts off so it’s never complete we are like a machine that was built improperly because we are missing parts and I think we all know how well that would work it doesn’t! It brakes down and does not function right I know there are many people in the same position as me and the longer this goes on the weaker we become not just physically but mentally the mental abuse and stress America policies cast on us is making our pain worse with less meds Ive always considered myself a strong person Thanks too these policies I’m not anymore I could meet the challenges of life mentally but not anymore just like many I’m almost done unless something Changes and soon😥

Duane B. Michaels

To describe my pain in two sentences is that I have been living the injury from my tractor trailer accident each and everyday for almost a decade. My middle and upper back, shoulders and chest continuously go from a dull ache to excruciating sharp stabing pain which worsens while lying down !