Unpleasant sensations other than pain?

It’s hard to describe physical sensations - we’ve got words for them, but you can never be sure that one person interperates a word the same way you do, and no proof that other people even experience ensations in the same way.

Throughout my life I’ve experienced strong sensations that I thought of as “discomfort”, because they feel like the opposite of comfort. The sensations are emphatically not pain, but are at least as unpleasant. I tend to get them where my skin folds and touches or rubs against itself, so between my fingers and toes, inner knees and armpits, and the corners of my eyes, nostrils, ears and lips. The worst place is around my fingernails, which I have to keep as short as possible at all times. Lately, I’ve started feeling a related but more diffuse sensation in my forearms, which thankfully can be moderated with topical analgesics like menthol cream.

So I’ve seen some doctors about this over time. When I was a kid I had an MRI and some nerve tests - I forget what, but they involved sticking needles deep into my leg muscles to read electrical signals or something. That got me nothing but “looks normal” results and a doctor sitting me down and telling me “God just made you special” (moron). Later I got hold of some of my medical records and there were a lot of quote marks around phases like “not pain”.

That was a little more rambling than I meant to do. Mainly I’m just looking for a way to describe my problem in a way that makes sense to people. To do that, I need to relate it to a sensation normal people feel, but I don’t know if that exists. It seems to me that when when most people hear the word “discomfort” they think of mild pain, or unpleasant tissue sensations like pressure or tightness. There’s a couple other words, but they don’t quite fit. From Wikipedia:

Paresthesia is a sensation of tingling, pricking, or numbness of a person’s skin with no apparent long-term physical effect.

Dysesthesia is defined as an unpleasant abnormal sensation. It is caused by lesions of the nervous system, peripheral or central, and it involves abnormal sensations, whether spontaneous or evoked, such as burning, wetness, itching, electric shock, pins and needles.

All of these refer to ordinary sensations produced in the absence of appropriate stimulus. Still doesn’t help me describe my problem. So here’s the actual question: Do you ever experience unpleasant sensations that aren’t pain, and don’t resemble a particular kind of stimulus like the ones described in the definitions above? Or do I have no point of contact to help explain to other people why I need to clip my fingernails RIGHT NOW?

No, but I do think this is a FANTASTIC user name/post combo.

I have plenty of sensations that I really dislike, like right now I have gel bandages on two of my fingers and they’re wrapped together with gauze, and the combination of immobility plus the gel is driving me up a freaking wall. But not my fingernails.

Well, that’s something. I’m not looking for someone with my exact problem, I just want to be able to tell someone “It feels like _____” and have them get a general idea. But since I know my sensory system is abnormal, I can’t be certain that anything I could compare it to from my own experience would be valid. Maybe it’s sort of futile, like describing a color, but I’d like to hear examples from other people so I can see what I do have in common.

I’m not a doctor or anything like that, but what you describe reminds me of heart palpitations–the abnormal awareness of one’s heartbeat.

Perhaps the sensations you’re having are in fact no different than what everyone else feels normally–the mere presence of your skin, fingers, etc. But for some reason your awareness of them is abnormally heightened to the point where the sensations are intrusive and distressing; similar to the way palpitations can make a normal heartbeat seem frightening.

Does that sound reasonable?

How about the someone walking over your grave sensation? You come over all creepy feeling, cold and then you shudder. Not pain, but not pleasant.

My nails seem to dig in and not be comfortable either but is that a very mild pain I wonder?

Is there any credence to the idea that some pain is good, and it is the complete lack of it we should be more concerned about?

That may be part of it. I am oversensitive to a lot of sensory input like light and sound. None of that results in a distinct sensation, though, just the original sensation being experienced as painful and irritating, but maybe the sense of touch is different. This really is its own sensation - I’d say it’s just like pain except without the sensation of “hurting”, but that doesn’t sound very comprehensible even to me.

One more try. Imagine pricking yourself with a pin. You experience it as a single sensation but it actually has a number of sensory components - the neutral physical feeling of the pin poking into your skin, plus the intense, attention- demanding sensation referred to by the word “pain”, which has attached to it a strong negative “coloring” - the part of the sensation that makes you feel “this is bad, I need to make it stop”.

I’ve heard of cases where people feel pain as a sensation, but not the “coloring” that makes it a negative experience. If the reverse is possible, maybe that’s what I’ve got here?

Have you ever woken up to the sound of a television station that has gone off the air ? Every now and then that tone pops up in my right ear and all I can do is hope it goes away soon. It can last for several seconds or go on for 15 minutes.


There is a term, “Pain asymbolia,” which is used when a person feels pain that isn’t unpleasant, although I’m not sure if those people feel all pain that way or only some pain.

I’ll toss out a few descriptive words in case they help: ache, throbbing, heaviness, inflammation?

I sometimes experience a sound that may be similar, always in one ear only. It’s sort of a muffled echoing ring type thing that only lasts a few seconds, and I can’t hear very well from that ear when it is happening.

At the risk of sounding completely nuts, I can also generate a sound of some sort inside my head at will. I don’t know how I do it, I just try and it happens. The best way I can describe the action that makes it happen is if I were clinching my brain behind my eyes, as if it were a muscle that I could actually clinch. I’m not moving anything on the outside of my head, and the only thing I know about what’s happening inside is that I can feel a slight pressure around my eyes and forehead after doing it for a few seconds. It sounds like a low and gentle rumble. When I was younger, I thought I was increasing the blood flow in my head to the point that I could hear it (or feel it in my ears). I’m sure that’s not what’s happening, but it’s still a good description of the “sound”.

I can also pop my ears at will, no need to pinch my nose and blow. I’m completely healthy except for these oddities.

Where would slight nausea come into this? Not painful, exactly, but definitely the feeling that somethin’ ain’t right. Or that indescribable feeling of “I might be coming down with something.” Sure, there are aches later, but the feeling itself (if others feel what I’m feeling) is not exactly painful - just yucky.

About the fingernails–I definitely have felt that in the past. I hated having my fingernails even a SMIDGE long…I don’t know why. I get manicures now, so I do have them grown out but if they get too long, I do start feeling oogy.

Yeah, or the not quite nausea–like right before you get sick. It’s more than just the slight sore throat/runny nose, but the kind of more…general achiness, “I feel yucky.”

I have exactly the same problem. Also, I’m constantly aware of my clothing. I think I’d describe it as sort of a tactile white noise or hyperawareness, a sub-itch with a component of restlessness. Like an itch, it kinda begs to be touched or moved. Deep pressure, knuckle cracking, massaging my scalp hard, etc. really seem to help. Too bad you can’t really massage your face or hands or feet in public whenever you get the “discomfort”.

I find that activity eliminates this hyperawareness pretty well as long as my attention is on it, so if I find myself in a boring situation I’ll definitely be doodling or knitting or origami-ing or something. Spiders Everywhere, you should definitely try taking up a really fiddly hobby if you haven’t already.

My dentist cleaned my teeth earlier this week. The feel of the scraping, the constant struggling with my gag reflex, the high-pitched noise of the cleaning implement (ultrasonic, I think) - all very unpleasant, but not painful. Don’t have a good word or phrase for it.

I get the fingernail thing. It’s just like an itchyness under my nails and I feel like I need to squeeze them hard or something. It’s most annoying when I’m trying to get to sleep, to the point where I’ll sometimes get up and cut them shorter.

I’m glad I’m not the only one with the “fingernail thing”. They’re too long right now! Aargh! Help!

I think of malaise as a more generalized thing, more of overall bad feeling than a sensation. Dysphoria I guess is the technical term. The opposite of euphoria.

I can do that too, or something that sounds a lot like what you’re describing. I’d figured I’m just clenching a small internal muscle that’s very close to the ear canal, but I’ve never researched it. It comes in handy, sometimes, if I want to drown someone out without visibly putting my fingers in my ears, like if someone near me is telling spoilers. :stuck_out_tongue:

Ooh, I can’t do that one. That sounds fun.

I think that’s malaise/dysphoria again.

Wow, I’m surprised to see so many people here with similar problems. No doctor I’ve talked to ever heard of it.

I had another thought, which is that you could think of this as a kind of synesthesia, but between tactile and some pain-related sensation rather than more traditionally distinguished senses. It occurred to me because I have strong associations between symbols and colors and the like, which I guess is related to synesthesia. I guess my whole nervous system is wired up kinda funny.

I have tinnitus like that, it has been constant since 1988. I can hear it when I am driving on the freeway, it is so loud. Sound as pain, oh yeah.

Same thing… I listen to music 24/7

For me, it’s “Sunburn Itch”… that is what I call it at least. It usually occurs when I haven’t been sunburned in a while and I get a pretty bad burn from my first exposure (I don’t go in the sun much)… It happens at a random moment, but it’s absolutely the most intolerable sensation I have ever felt. I’ve been through it a few times. It usually last about 20 minutes with chronic itching, moistening, etc. Nothing you do will make it go away. You just have to bear it for the 20 minutes.

ETA: I also have RLS. Restless Leg Syndrome. It occurs a few times per week. More often when I am immobile. Nowhere near as bad as the sunburn itch though.

Yes,I have tinnitus so loud that I probably am ruining my hearing even worse by purposely having background noises loud enough to drown it out. It’s gotten so bad lately, that it is like an itch I can not scratch. It hurts without being painful.