It was agony: talking about pain

seksan Mongkhonkhamsao / Moment / Getty Images

by Liz Walter

When we experience pain, it can be important to be able to describe it accurately. The most common way of talking about pain is with the verb hurt. We can say that part of our body hurts, or start a sentence with ‘It hurts …’  to explain when it is painful to do something:

My knee hurts.

It hurts to bend my knee / It hurts when I bend my knee.

Another simple way to describe pain is to use the adjective painful or to say that you feel or have pain/a pain in a part of your body:

It’s only a small cut, but it’s very painful.

She felt a sharp pain in her stomach.

We often describe bad pain as severe or intense:

The pain in his chest was quite intense.

But to emphasize that a pain is terrible, we often use the adjectives excruciating or (UK) agonising/(US) agonizing:

I trapped my finger in the door – it was excruciating!

She was in agonising pain when she broke her foot.

We also might say, more informally, that someone who is in a lot of pain is in agony:

He had broken his leg and was clearly in agony.

A sharp pain feels quick and strong, as if you have been cut. A repeated sharp pain is often called a stabbing pain, and pains that move quickly through a part of your body are shooting pains. Continuous sharp pains can also be described as stinging:

I had a sharp/stabbing/shooting pain in my shoulder.

The liquid caused a stinging pain in his throat.

A pain that goes on and on without stopping is continuous. We also say that someone is in constant pain. Doctors describe pain that lasts for months or years rather than hours or minutes as chronic, in contrast to pain that starts suddenly, which is acute:

She is in constant/continuous pain from arthritis.

He suffers from chronic back pain.

Many patients experience acute pain after surgery.

A nagging pain has been present for a long time, but is usually not very serious, while intermittent pain stops and starts:

I had a nagging pain in my ear.

She’s getting intermittent pains in her left arm.

If a part of our body hurts when it is pressed or touched, we say it is tender or sore:

The glands on his neck were swollen and tender.

The skin was sore where it had been burned.

We also say we have a sore throat when our throat hurts:

I woke up this morning with a terrible sore throat.

I hope you won’t need to talk about pain, but if you do, you should now be well-prepared!

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