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25 Photos That Show What Life With Chronic Pain Looks Like

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Although we might think of pain as something that is felt rather than seen, chronic pain can take a number of different forms. For some, the manifestations of illness are visible, such as redness or swelling. For others, their symptoms may be “invisible,” but a closer look could reveal more: Perhaps a nice outfit hides scars from countless surgeries, or a smile hides the tiredness behind a person’s eyes. Regardless of how pain is (or isn’t) expressed, it is a very real battle chronic illness warriors fight daily.

In partnership with the US Pain Foundation, we asked our community to share photos of what chronic pain looks like in order to shed light on the many ways pain can affect us. In these photos we see people with various conditions undergoing a number of different trials – but all continue to persevere and show strength in the face of their pain.

Here’s what our community shared with us:

1. “Still trying to live life the best I can despite the pain, discomfort and difficulty walking for more than a few minutes. I wasn’t able to stand there and enjoy the view for too long, but just enough that I could still be grateful because at least I still have days I can get out of bed and go out. This was taken after a book fair and I probably ended up paying for that night with days of recuperation in bed or maybe even an ER trip, but at that moment, with the view and the wind and the smell of books on my fingers, it was all worth it.”

2. “I’m in agony with my fibromyalgia. My hips, knees and back were on fire. My brain fog off the scale. I keep it hidden from my boys.”

3. “This is where my complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) began. Now it is full body. It’s been three years since I fell and injured my wrist. Every second of every minute of every hour of every day: constant bone-crushing, fire-burning pain.”

4. “Pain flares always come with the joy of not being able to get comfy no matter what you do. I’ve been in daily pain for three years and it doesn’t get any easier. I wanted to give up in this picture. I didn’t want to be in pain anymore. But I kept going because I will not let my illness take over my life.”

5. “I have Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. I’m feeling pretty exhausted and in pain which is typical. I have to use multiple pillows strategically placed just to be moderately comfortable.”

6. “Hospital admissions. Feeling overwhelmed and defeated. This was when I was admitted for the second time with early line sepsis and a raging virus on top of it, both causing terrible muscle, joint and skin pain. Also dealing with an ileus, and both feet healing from surgeries for tendon ruptures. All complications of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. Something always hurts. Sometimes it all piles up at the same time like this and I can’t force a smile through all the pain.”

7. “This picture was taken shortly after I woke up from having a trial occipital nerve stimulator implanted, back on December 30th. I have chronic daily migraines with occipital neuralgia. My implant got infected and I had to get it out a couple months ago, and now my insurance has denied the reimplantation, so I’m about to start the appeals process.”

8. “It took every spoon I had to put the makeup on and take the pictures. Editing it took more spoons on another day. I cover my pain with a smile. It is excruciating some days to do simple things, like put on shoes, pants, put my hair in a ponytail, etc. Most days I cannot push through, but on the ones I can, I pay for it later for sure.”

9. “This is my leg destroyed by a knee surgery and femoral artery bypass, and about eight more surgeries. Although it looks healed, the damage and pain comes from peripheral neuropathy, CRPS and other things.”

10. “This is me around this time last year. I had been stressing over situation for months and ended up having a flare from my illness. I was at the infusion center receiving IVIG and intravenous prednisone.”

11. “Having fibromyalgia is hard enough but when I get sick on top of it…it really shuts my life down. I’m laying in bed now waiting for my groceries to be delivered. I’ve been feeling pretty overwhelmed and defeated lately.”

12. “Behind this smile is fibromyalgia, Crohn’s disease and chronic fatigue syndrome. I walked 10 km today. I’m suffering from bronchitis (third time this year). It may have taken me three hours to walk due to being in so much pain, but I’m glad I got out of the house to raise awareness and money for Crohn’s and Colitis UK.”

13. “Seems like a hospital trip once a week. Chronic pancreatitis.”

14. “This photo was after I got out of the operating room. I had to get a test on my small intestine, and they had to administer a medicine to me intravenously because I wasn’t processing the medicine or any food even through my feeding tube. I was feeling horrible, and I started running a fever on top of it all. Living with chronic illness is certainly not pretty, and sometimes you have to capture the truth behind all the smiling photos you take. This is raw. This is what chronic illness can look like.”

selfie of a young woman in the hospital

15. “My son’s third brain surgery…shunt placement. This was the most pain I’ve seen him in, and he still tried so hard to smile. He has fought pain his whole life and now has a pain tolerance that even impresses his neurosurgeon!”

16. “This is me on the set of my job as a television director. This is also me in widespread chronic pain. I was born with a rare bone disease called multiple hereditary exostoses, meaning I was born in pain. Over the years, one chronic pain diagnosis morphed into multiple ones, including fibromyalgia and chronic daily migraines. In this picture, I have screws holding my hip together, tumors in my ankles making it hard to stand steady, neck and back on fire, limbs so heavy they feel like they are filled with lead, ears ringing a constant high-pitched squeal, constant double vision because my brain gets overloaded between the daily migraines and fibromyalgia and a smile on my face. After 23 years of constant pain, I have learned to keep pushing and be bigger than my pain… As they say, the show must go on.”

17. “The happiest day of my life was one of my highest pain days. By the end of it I couldn’t walk and was close to blacking out due to a migraine. At that point I had gone a year without a diagnosis. My illness stops me from doing many things I love but couldn’t keep me from marrying the love of my life.”

18. “I’m in both kidney/liver failure on top of having diabetes and neuropathy. Every day is a struggle for me physically and mentally. Some days you can tell I’m not feeling good, others you cannot. But I can tell you one thing I get most days is “You don’t look sick.” I say, “If only you really knew…”

19. “Walked into get my oil changed on my birthday with the can folded in my purse. No more than 10 minutes later, I am in a full hemiplegic migraine episode with paralysis, aphasia and blurry vision, just to name a few things. What made things worse was the manager thought I was faking it since I walked in “completely fine.” Being young, a former top-level, two sport collegiate athlete and fighting to be treated fairly was not something I dreamed up for myself. It certainly wasn’t a happy birthday last year.”

20. “After getting Botox for my chronic migraines, at the beginning of the five-hour drive home from Mayo. An ice pack and dark sunglasses are a must!”

21. “This photo was taken when my niece came to visit but sadly the day after that I was given a shot of Luprorelin (GnRH) so I couldn’t feel my whole body. I had such so much of a headache that I wanted to open my eyes but it was so hard to do. All I could do that day was to lay down and sleep.”

22. “My nightstand. The stuff that keeps me alive. I have a love/hate relationship with it. This picture was hard for me to take, but I think people need to know. The life of someone with chronic illness.”

23. “Having to be wheeled around, being in too much pain to walk. I try my best to push through the pain and still do things normally but sometimes that’s just not possible. My assistance dog is lying on my lap acting as a heating pad to make this afternoon out possible.”

24. “My fiancée and daughter wanted to go to the beach. I feel like there are water balloons in my neck, my arms, legs and upper back hurt and my heart is racing.”

25. “This is me at the end of a long hard winter of practically nonstop hard back-to-back flaring. The day I took this picture my birds were extra cuddly. They knew I wasn’t doing well.”

Originally published: May 22, 2017
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