14 Pain Metaphors, Idioms and Similes (2022) (2022)

Some of my favorite pain metaphors are:

14 Pain Metaphors, Idioms and Similes (2022) (1)
  • Pain is holding me back
  • Stabbing pain
  • My stomach is in knots

Some good pain idioms are:

  • Swallow your pain
  • Blinding headache
  • There are butterflies in my stomach

Below is the full list of each pain idioms, similes and metaphors with explanations of each.

A List of Pain Metaphors, Idioms and Similes

1. The Pain is Holding me Back

14 Pain Metaphors, Idioms and Similes (2022) (2)

Type: Metaphor

If you are in so much pain that you can’t get out of bed or do things you want to do, you can say “this pain is holding me back”. It doesn’t mean the pain is literally reaching out with its invisible hand and preventing you from doing things. But it does mean that it’s figuratively holding you down.

Examples of when this might happen include: When you have leg splints so you can’t go for a run. Or, when you have a headache so bad that you can’t work for the day.

2. Stabbing Pain

Type: Metaphor

Stabbing pain doesn’t mean that someone has stabbed you with a knife. It means that your pain feels like something is stabbing you in your body. It’s usually sharp and overwhelming and feels like hard physical pressure.

Sometimes you might hear people also referring to this sort of pain as “like a hot butterknife”.

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3. Swallow your Pain

14 Pain Metaphors, Idioms and Similes (2022) (3)

Type: Idiom

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Swallowing pain doesn’t usually have anything to do with pain in the throat. Rather, it means to cover-up any pain in order to get on with life. You might be feeling the pain, but also ignoring it and pretending it isn’t even effecting you.

For example, if you were hurt in the knee in a football game, you might make a conscious choice to deal with it and ‘play through the pain’, meaning to continue playing the game despite it.

A similar metaphor is “swallow your pride”, meaning to be humble and even accept humiliation.

4. My feet are Killing Me

Type: Idiom

The key word here is “killing me”. This, really, is hyperbole. No one is actually being killed (we hope!) But rather, you can use this phrase to express the idea that you’re in agony over something.

This one is very common at the end of a hard day’s work on your feet, or a long hike. You might get to the end of the day, take your shoes off, and say “ohhh, my feet are killing me!”

But it doesn’t just have to be your feet.

For example, you could say that your shoulder or neck are killing you if they’re giving you strong pain that’s distracting you from anything else.

5. My Stomach is in Knots

14 Pain Metaphors, Idioms and Similes (2022) (4)

Type: Metaphor

This metaphor us used when people feel like their stomach is really sore. It can put an image in the mind of a stomach that has been tied up like a knot, which you’d think would really hurt. You would feel that it’s stretched and squeezed all over the place.

The other time ‘knots’ are used as a pain metaphor is when you have sore muscles. You can say “I have a knot in my back”.

This doesn’t mean that you literally have a muscle that twisted around like a pretzel and now is knotted. Rather, it means your muscles are tensed up and not relaxed.

6. Blinding Headache

Type: Idiom

If you have a blinding headache, it doesn’t mean you’ve gone blind. It means the headache is so, so painful that it even hurts your eyes. People who get migraines might be able to relate to this. You just want to go into a dark room and wait for the headache to go away.

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Use this metaphor when you’ve got a really sharp, painful headache that is prohibiting you from concentrating. If you’ve got a mild headache, you might use a different way to explain it, like a low-level headache or a pesky headache.

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7. My Stomach is doing Somersaults

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Type: Metaphor

This metaphor can be used in two instances.

In the first situation, you might be nervous. You could say this when you’re about to go on your first date, for example. You feel so nervous that your stomach starts feeling sore – and you say “it’s doing somersaults!” In other words, it feels like it’s spinning around up and down.

(Personally, I like the idea of saying: “My stomach is a washing machine!” to express the same feeling).

In the other situation, you might feel like vomiting because you’re sick. This might occur if you were on a particularly rough bus ride, for example. You might get out of the bus and head straight for the bushes, telling your travel companions: “my stomach is doing somersaults!”

8. Butterflies in my Stomach

Type: Idiom

Butterflies in your stomach usually refers to nervousness only. So, you wouldn’t want to say this one if you’re actually feeling physically sick in the stomach from anything but nervousness. You wouldn’t say “I have butterflies in my stomach” when you’re feeling like you’ve got food poisoning!

But it’s a great idiom for nervousness because it really can feel like there’s something tickling the insides of your stomach when you’re nervous. Imagine the discomfort of that tickling sensation if there were literally butterflies flapping around in your belly!

9. I’m Burning Up

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Type: Idiom

If you’re burning up, it means you have a fever. It doesn’t mean you’re literally on fire!

When someone has a fever, it often means they feel hot. They might particularly feel hot on the forehead.

And in fact, there’s a reason for that.

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When you have a fever your body temperature literally rises. But, it might go up half a degree or one degree. So you’re never actually going to burn or boil.

But this exaggeration helps people to explain the pain they feel – they can feel themselves getting hot from the inside-out. And that’s because they are!

10. I’m Freezing to Death

Type: Idiom

The opposite to burning up is freezing! You might say you’re “freezing to death” if you go for a walk on a particularly cold, snowy day. And like all good idioms, this is figurative language. One would hope you’re not actually going to die.

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11. Jackhammers in my Head

14 Pain Metaphors, Idioms and Similes (2022) (7)

Type: Idiom

Jackhammers are loud – really loud! They also bounce around and cause havoc. The men and women who operate them have to wear headphones and battle to keep them under control.

Even if you live next door to (or down the street from) someone doing renovations with a jackhammer, it will really bother you. It might even give you a headache from all the noise!

So, this metaphor refers to just how annoying jackhammers are. Imagine if you had a jackhammer in your head. It would cause a catastrophic headache. So if you say you have jackhammers in your head, it means you’ve got an enormous headache.

12. It Feels like a Hot Iron Rod

Type: Simile

This simile might be used when talking about a hot pain. A particularly sharp sunburn, for example, might be referred to as feeling like a hot iron rod.

Burning rashes are another example of a hot pain that might feel like a hot iron rod.

I imagine this simile is connected to the fact ranchers will often brand cattle with hot iron rods. The simmering, searing noise when the rod touches the cattle hide seems incredibly painful. And that’s the visual I get when I hear this simile being used.

13. I’m Carrying Pain

14 Pain Metaphors, Idioms and Similes (2022) (8)

Type: Idiom

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Someone who is “carrying pain” might be experiencing either psychological or physical pain.

For physical pain, this would mean that the pain is a burden that’s “weighing you down”. You could even say “my pain is a weight on my shoulder”. This wouldn’t mean it’s literally on your shoulders, but rather that it feels like you’re carrying a huge weight around.

For psychological pain, you can say you’re carrying pain if it’s an emotional drain and burden on your life. In my article on depression metaphors, I talk a lot about how depression seems to be a weight that follows you around.

14. It Feels like a Kick in the Guts

Type: Simile

You can use this saying to refer to both physical pain and emotional pain.

For physical pain, it refers to the idea that you’ve got a pain in your stomach that is intense. It’s not usually a sharp pain, but rather a wide, throbbing pain.

For emotional pain, it means you have suffered a significant emotional setback. You might have even been betrayed by someone. Some examples include: “the break-up was a kick in the guts” or even “losing that job was a kick in the guts”.


Pain metaphors can help people explain the sort of pain they’re feeling. They can be useful for explaining both physical and psychological pain.

If none of these metaphors, idioms and similes are useful for your situation, feel free to make up your own figurative language to express yourself! The only limit to figurative language is your own imagination.

14 Pain Metaphors, Idioms and Similes (2022) (9)


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I’m Chris and I run this website – a resource about symbolism, metaphors, idioms, and a whole lot more! Thanks for dropping by.


14 Pain Metaphors, Idioms and Similes (2022)? ›

A List of Pain Metaphors, Idioms and Similes
  • The Pain is Holding me Back.
  • Stabbing Pain.
  • Swallow your Pain.
  • My feet are Killing Me.
  • My Stomach is in Knots.
  • Blinding Headache.
  • My Stomach is doing Somersaults.
  • Butterflies in my Stomach.
Mar 17, 2021

What is a metaphor for pain? ›

Single word metaphorical descriptors included pain that was 'pinching', 'pressing', 'crushing' 'tight', or 'heavy'. Multiple participants described their pain as feeling like their body part in pain was in a 'vice', with pressure being exerted on it.

What are good similes for pain? ›

  • be sore.
  • hurt.
  • pain.
  • pound.
  • smart.
  • suffer.
  • throb.
  • twinge.

What are the 20 examples of similes? ›

What are 20 examples of similes?
  • She was as sly as a fox.
  • That knife is as sharp as a razor.
  • He's as sick as a dog.
  • It was as big as an elephant.
  • He is as bright as a button.
  • She's as cold as ice.
  • It's as tough as an old boot.
  • He's as good as gold.

What is a metaphor for killing? ›

rained death (attack from the sky) scorched earth (destruction of property as well as killing of people) reign of terror (ongoing government-sanctioned killing) dropping like flies.

How do you describe pain? ›

If you have raw-feeling pain, your skin may seem extremely sore or tender. Sharp: When you feel a sudden, intense spike of pain, that qualifies as “sharp.” Sharp pain may also fit the descriptors cutting and shooting. Stabbing: Like sharp pain, stabbing pain occurs suddenly and intensely.

Is heartbroken a metaphor? ›

Broken heart (also known as a heartbreak or heartache) is a metaphor for the intense emotional stress or pain one feels at experiencing great and deep longing. The concept is cross-cultural, often cited with reference to unreciprocated or lost love.

What is a word for deep pain? ›

1 unbearable, insufferable, unendurable, agonizing, racking.

How do you say very painful? ›

  1. afflicting,
  2. agonizing,
  3. bitter,
  4. cruel,
  5. excruciating,
  6. galling,
  7. grievous,
  8. harrowing,

What is the strongest word for pain? ›

  • agonizing.
  • excruciating.
  • harrowing.
  • painful.
  • suffering.
  • torturing.
  • torturous.

What are the 10 examples of metaphor? ›

Everyday Life Metaphor Examples
  • The kids were just bowls of ice cream melting in the sun.
  • America is a melting pot.
  • Her lovely voice was music to his ears.
  • The world is a stage.
  • My kid's room is a disaster area because he refuses to clean it up.
  • Life is a rollercoaster.
  • Their home was a prison.
  • Her heart is a cold iron.

What are 5 examples of metaphor? ›

Common metaphor examples
  • Life is a highway.
  • Her eyes were diamonds.
  • He is a shining star.
  • The snow is a white blanket.
  • She is an early bird.
Jan 12, 2021

What is death like simile? ›

Dead as mackerel. Dead as the nail in a coffin. Dead as the Roman Empire. Dead as the wholesale district on Sunday.

What is simile for death? ›

There are many phrases that use the term “sleep” (or similes) to refer to death – for example, an “eternal slumber”, “the long sleep”, and “the final resting place”. One such phrase is “the big sleep”.

What symbolizes death? ›

The human skull is an obvious and frequent symbol of death, found in many cultures and religious traditions.

What are the 4 types of pain? ›

  • Nociceptive Pain: Typically the result of tissue injury. ...
  • Inflammatory Pain: An abnormal inflammation caused by an inappropriate response by the body's immune system. ...
  • Neuropathic Pain: Pain caused by nerve irritation. ...
  • Functional Pain: Pain without obvious origin, but can cause pain.
Apr 29, 2019

What are 5 ways to describe pain? ›

Some common ways to describe pain are:
  • Burning.
  • Sharp.
  • Aching.
  • Dull.
  • Stabbing.
  • Radiating.
  • Throbbing.
  • Cramping.

What are the 8 characteristics of pain? ›

Patients should be asked to describe their pain in terms of the following characteristics: location, radiation, mode of onset, character, temporal pattern, exacerbating and relieving factors, and intensity. The Joint Commission updated the assessment of pain to include focusing on how it affects patients' function.

What is the meaning of 💔? ›

What does 💔 Broken Heart emoji mean? What becomes of the broken hearted? One thing's for sure: they use the broken heart emoji. In texts and on social media, the emoji is used to express grief after a breakup, loss, or other setbacks.

Why is a broken heart so painful? ›

Why does it hurt so much? Studies show that your brain registers the emotional pain of heartbreak in the same way as physical pain, which is why you might feel like your heartbreak is causing actual physical hurt.

What is similar to a broken heart? ›

Similar words for broken heart:

heartbreak (noun) heavy heart (noun) other relevant words (noun) sadness (noun)

What is a word for the worst pain? ›

  • agonizing.
  • excruciating.
  • harrowing.
  • painful.
  • suffering.
  • torturing.
  • torturous.

What is a word worse than hurt? ›

Hurt Synonyms - WordHippo Thesaurus.
What is another word for hurt?
sufferbe hurting
35 more rows

What do you call a sharp pain? ›

acute pain

nounshort-term pain. darting pain. sharp pain.

What are sounds of pain? ›

The low sound you make when you're in pain is called a moan. A bad stomachache can leave you bent over, making soft moans. Moan is also a verb, so whenever someone is hurting enough — physically or mentally — there's the possibility they'll moan in despair or discomfort.

What are some examples of a metaphor? ›

A metaphor is a literary device that imaginatively draws a comparison between two unlike things.
  • “Bill is an early bird.”
  • “Life is a highway.”
  • “Her eyes were diamonds.”
Feb 11, 2022

What are deep metaphors? ›

Gerald Zaltman and Lindsay Zaltman: Deep metaphors are basic frames or orientations we have toward the world around us. They are "deep" because they are largely unconscious and universal. They are "metaphors" because they recast everything we think about, hear, say, and do.

What are some metaphors for life? ›

Some examples of metaphors for life include:
  • "Life is a song; we each get to write our own lyrics."
  • "Life is a puzzle; you can only see the picture when you put all the pieces together."
  • "Life is a garden; with care and love you can cultivate beautiful flowers."
Feb 14, 2022

What is a metaphor for love? ›

Some metaphors for love include: Love is a rose. Love is a storm. Love is a fire. Love is a nutrient.


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