Here Are 20 of the Most Painful Health Conditions You Can Get

pain headache
Representative image of pain iStock

The U.K.'s National Health Service (NHS) has published a list featuring 20 of the most painful health conditions you can get. These conditions can be so severe sufferers are prevented from carrying out normal day-to-day tasks. According to the American Academy of Pain Medicine, millions of people across the U.S. suffer from pain every year, costing an estimated $560 billion to $635 billion annually.

The list below is in no particular order of severity of the pain or the seriousness of the condition.

Frozen shoulder

This condition is where the shoulder joint becomes tight and stiff, making it extremely difficult to perform even small movements. It is not clear what causes frozen shoulder, but it can emerge after an injury and is more common in people with diabetes.

Cluster headaches

This is where pain emerges on one side of the head, often around the eye. These headaches come on quickly and without warning, and are often described as being sharp or piercing. The pain can be so bad people react by rocking and pacing back and forth.


Shingles normally appear as a rash or blistering on one side of the body—generally around the waist. It produces a burning or tingling pain. Around one in three people in the U.S. will develop shingles in their lifetime and there are an estimated one million cases in the country every year.

Heart attack

The pain during a heart attack often starts in the center of the chest and is described as heavy, tight or squeezing. It can spread to the jaw, neck, back arms and stomach. About 735,000 Americans have a heart attack every year.

Slipped disc

Representative image of back pain. Getty Images

A slipped disc is where one of the discs in the spine ruptures and the gel inside leaks out. It is one of the most common causes of back pain and is often the result of lifting injuries or twisting. It normally starts as severe sudden pain in the lower back that is made worse by moving, coughing and sneezing.

Broken bones

Breaking a bone is very painful, especially when you try to move it. It is often described as a deep aching sensation. Almost seven million people in the U.S. break bones every year.

CRPS—complex regional pain syndrome

This can appear after an injury such as a burn, cut or fracture. It causes a burning pain that is constant and intense, and is often far worse than the original injury. The skin of the affected body part becomes extremely sensitive, so even a light touch can cause intense pain.


Appendicitis is where the appendix, a pouch-like structure of the colon that is located in the lower right abdomen, swells. If it bursts, this becomes a medical emergency requiring an urgent operation. Symptoms include a dull pain in the upper or lower abdomen that becomes sharp as it moves toward the lower right abdomen.

Trigeminal neuralgia

This is also known as Fothergill's disease. It relates to severe pain on one side of the face that comes and goes. It has been described as a shooting, stabbing and burning pain. According to the American Association of Neuromuscular & Electrodiagnostic Medicine, women are more commonly affected than men.

Stomach ulcer

This is a hole or sore that appears in the lining of the stomach. If untreated it can burn through the stomach wall. This allows digestive juices to leak into the abdominal cavity, which causes severe pain.


Fibromyalgia is a condition that affects between two and four percent of people, with women being more affected than men. It causes pain across the body, normally in the neck, shoulders, lower back, hips, elbows, knees and shins. The pain is normally worse in the morning.

Sickle cell disease

Pain from sickle cell disease normally occurs in the bones and joints and can last up to a week. It is estimated that 100,000 Americans are affected by sickle cell disease, and it tends to disproportionately affect African-Americans.


Over 54 million people in the U.S are living with arthritis. iStock

Over 54 million people in the U.S are living with arthritis. It is one of the most common chronic conditions and a major cause of work disability in the country. Arthritis causes disabling pain in the joints, most commonly in the hips, knees, wrists and fingers.


A migraine is an intense headache that causes pain so severe it prevents suffers from performing normal activities. It can cause vomiting and extreme sensitivity to light and sound—normally during an attack people need to wait for the pain to pass in a dark, quiet room.


This is where the tissue that lines the womb is found outside of the womb. This creates pain in the pelvis, pain during and after sex and period pain. The condition can lead to infertility.

Pain after surgery

The level of intensity of pain following surgery can vary according to what sort of operation the person had. A World Health Organization report from 2008 estimated that over 234 million surgical procedures take place across the globe every year.


This condition causes an aching pain down the leg. It is the result of damage to the sciatic nerve, where it has been pinched or irritated somehow. This pain is different to back pain as it tends to manifest in the buttocks and legs, all the way down to the calf.

Kidney stones

Kidney stones are solid pieces of material that form in the kidneys when there are high levels of certain minerals present in a person's urine. Sufferers can experience sharp pain in the back, side and lower abdomen. The pain generally passes when the stone has passed.


Gout is where pain and swelling emerge in a joint, often in the big toe. It can be so severe just touching the toe can be agonizing. During an attack, the joint aches and swells before becoming red hot and very painful. Attacks normally last between one and 10 days. Men and obese adults are more at risk of getting gout.

Acute pancreatitis

This is where the pancreas swells, causing severe and sudden abdominal pain. It can be made worse by eating fatty foods. The pain generally gets worse and travels along the back to below the left shoulder blade. It is one of the most common gastrointestinal causes for hospital admission in the U.S.