Aches and Pains You Should Never Ignore

What's your body trying to tell you?

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Pain is your body’s way of telling you something’s wrong. Sometimes you’ll know exactly why you’re hurting: If you went hard at the gym yesterday, it’s no surprise you’re sore today. But sometimes pain is symptomatic of a more serious condition. Be aware of these seven aches and pains that may require immediate medical treatment.

Medically reviewed in March 2020.

Stiff neck

2 / 8 Stiff neck

If you have: a stiff neck

It could be: meningitis

Meningitis is inflammation in the tissue lining of the brain and spinal cord (the meninges). The inflammation can cause a variety of issues, including seizures, hearing loss, disability, brain damage and even death. The two most common of types of meningitis are viral and bacterial; viral meningitis is more common and less severe. Bacterial meningitis requires immediate hospitalization.

Other symptoms of meningitis: Fever and chills, nausea and vomiting, sensitivity to light, confusion, lethargy and headache

Chest pain

3 / 8 Chest pain

If you have: chest pain

It could be: a heart attack

Intense chest pain and pressure is the most common symptom of a heart attack. Cardiologists say the sooner a patient receives treatment for a heart attack, the better off they’ll be. Ideally, patients will receive treatment within 60 minutes of the onset of symptoms. It’s important to know the signs of a heart attack, so you can take action.

Other symptoms of heart attack: Pain in the arm or jaw, heartburn, shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting

Painful pimple

4 / 8 Painful pimple

If you have: a zit that hurts

It could be: staph

If you have a painful, throbbing zit, especially if you’ve had an open wound or had close contact with another person, it could be an infection of Staphylococcus aureus, or a staph infection. It may look like a pimple, but staph is a bacterial infection that usually spreads by skin-to-skin contact. There is a form of staph called methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA) that’s harder to treat than normal staph. Severe MRSA infections that move to the bones, joints or bloodstream can be fatal.

Other symptoms of staph: Redness around the infection site, fever

Headache or migraine

5 / 8 Headache or migraine

If you have: a headache

It could be: an aneurysm

Headaches have many causes, but a headache you feel above and behind one eye could be a sign of a brain aneurysm, which is the swelling or ballooning of an artery in the brain. High blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking are often culprits. Small aneurysms usually don’t cause symptoms; only larger or burst aneurysms cause a headache.

Other symptoms of a brain aneurysm: Dilated pupils; vision changes; numbness, weakness or paralysis of one side of the face

Leg pain

6 / 8 Leg pain

If you have: pain in the leg, especially the calf

It could be: Deep vein thrombosis

It’s been said that sitting is the new smoking, which goes to show how dangerous a sedentary lifestyle can be for your health. If you’ve been sitting for a long time without getting up—at work, in a car, on a plane—and your thigh or calf starts to hurt, that might be a sign of deep vein thrombosis (DVT). DVT is a blood clot that can travel to the lungs, causing a pulmonary embolism. Get up and move around every hour, even if it means stopping the car.

Other symptoms of DVT: Warmth, swelling, tenderness and redness over a leg vein

Lower back pain

7 / 8 Lower back pain

If you have: severe lower back pain

It could be: kidney stones

Back pain is one of the most common medical problems, affecting about 8 in 10 people at some point in their lives. Back pain has many causes, but a more serious cause is kidney stones. Kidney stones form when substances in urine become highly concentrated and solidify. Small stones may pass through the urinary tract on their own, but large stones can get stuck and cause severe pain. About 300,000 people go to the emergency room every year for kidney stones.

Other symptoms of kidney stones: Blood in urine, pain while urinating, fever and chills, vomiting and urine that’s cloudy or smells bad

Stomach pain

8 / 8 Stomach pain

If you have: pain in the right side of your belly

It could be: appendicitis

Sometimes a bellyache is simply caused by eating too much. But if you have sudden pain in the right side of your abdomen that gets worse over time, you may have appendicitis. Appendicitis happens when there’s a blockage inside the appendix and is almost always treated with removal of the appendix. Appendicitis is more common in people between 10 and 30 years old.

Other symptoms of appendicitis: Swelling of the abdomen, fever, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, constipation or diarrhea

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