What Can Cause Stabbing Pain?

Acute or chronic pain is characterized as sharp, burning, stabbing, penetrating and colicky pain. Acute pain lasts for less than 3 to 6 months. Pain is known as chronic pain when it lasts more than 6 months. Acute pain is mostly a nociceptive pain, which is often caused by irritation of peripheral receptors and nerve ending. Chronic pain is mostly mixed pain. Mixed pain could be nociceptive as well as neuropathic pain. Neuropathic pain is caused by abnormalities in transmission of pain impulses at spinal cord and brain. Pain transmission abnormalities are caused by abnormal secretion of neurotransmitters and behavioral changes of pain receptors of neurons (nerve cells) within spinal cord and brain. Nociceptive pain is defined as sharp, penetrating and stabbing pain. Neuropathic pain characterized as burning and stabbing pain is often described as allodynia and hyperalgesia. Stabbing pain should be investigated as soon as possible. Stabbing pain often precedes life threatening situations.

Stabbing Pain

What Can Cause Stabbing Pain?

Stabbing pain can be felt over stomach, chest, head, back, hands, legs and joints. There can be various medical conditions that can cause pain, which is described as stabbing in nature. Let us take a look at some of the common medical conditions that can cause stabbing pain.

  1. Soft Tissue Trauma as a Cause for Stabbing Pain

    1. Penetrating Wound – Knife or penetrating wound of skin causes stabbing pain over extremities, chest and abdomen
    2. Muscle Tear – Muscle tear of neck, back and extremities are often caused by sports injury or domestic fall. Stabbing pain as a result of muscle tear is spread over back, neck, arms or legs.
    3. Tendon Rupture – Is observed in arms and legs following twist of joint or sports injury. Person can experience pain in hands and legs that is described as stabbing in nature as a result of tendon rupture.
    4. Ligament Tear or Rupture of the Ligaments – Ligamental tear or rupture of ligament causes pain that is described as stabbing in nature over the ligament and is observed in neck, back, arms or legs.
    5. Stabbing Pain in Arms and Legs Caused Due to Tendon Dislocation – Tendon dislocation is separation of tendon from its attachment to bone. Tendon dislocation causes sudden intense stabbing pain over dislocated tendon often in arms and legs.
    6. Stabbing Pain in Arms and Legs Caused Due To Ligament Dislocation – Ligament is separated from its attachment to adjacent bone and such injury results in severe sharp intense stabbing pain. Pain is observed over injured ligaments in arms and legs.
    7. Stabbing Pain in Chest Due to Pneumothorax – Sudden rupture of parietal pleura or visceral pleura causes pneumothorax, which results in sudden air pocket outside lungs and severe stabbing pain around chest. Such condition may or may not be associated with difficulties in breathing.
  2. Inflammations That Can Cause Stabbing Pain in Stomach

    1. Gall Bladder Pain Due To Cholecystitis– Stabbing pain is observed over right upper abdomen among patients suffering gall bladder pain due to Cholecystitis.
    2. Stabbing Pain in Stomach Caused by Appendicitis– People suffering from appendicitis often experience excruciating pain in the stomach. Stabbing pain is observed over umbilicus and right lower abdomen among people suffering from appendicitis.
    3. Stabbing Pain Caused Due to Ruptured Ovarian Cyst– Rupture of ovarian cyst causes sudden intense stabbing pain in right or left lower abdomen and pelvis.
  3. Infections That Can Cause Stabbing Pain:

    1. Meningitis– Common symptoms of meningitis include severe headache and neck stiffness. Pain described as stabbing in nature is felt over back of the neck.
    2. Encephalitis– It is an inflammation of the brain. Stabbing pain in head is caused by encephalitis.
    3. Brain Abscess– Increased intracranial (within skull) pressure because of space occupying lesion, which follows abscess collection results in severe stabbing pain in head or headache.
    4. Epidural Abscess– Symptoms of spinal epidural abscess include moderate to severe back pain which can be sudden in onset and rapid increase of intensity in short duration. Stabbing lower back pain or neck pain is rarely caused by epidural abscess.
    5. Tooth Abscess– Tooth abscess causes severe stabbing dental pain over tooth and gum. The pain is often spread over maxillary or mandibular bone.
  4. Stabbing Pain Caused by Ulcers

    Stabbing Pain Due To Ulcers

    1. Stomach Ulcer– Mucosal ulcer of stomach and duodenum causes stabbing pain which is often felt over right upper abdomen and umbilicus.
    2. Oral Ulcer– Multiple oral ulcer causes pain during mastication and drinking citric juices described as stabbing kind of pain.
  5. Vascular Diseases That Can Cause Stabbing Pain

    1. Stabbing Pain in Stomach Due To Abdominal Aneurysm – Partial ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm causes classic stabbing pain over lower back and abdomen. The symptom can be life saving if investigated to rule out aneurysm. Early investigation and diagnosis can prevent life threatening rupture of aneurysm.
    2. Cerebral Aneurysm– Cerebral (brain) aneurysm causes shooting headache or pain that is described as stabbing in nature, which is often pulsatile. Early diagnosis can prevent rupture of aneurysm resulting in bleeding and life threatening complications.
    3. Stabbing Pain in Chest Due To Thoracic Aneurysm– Thoracic aneurysm is divided as type 1 to 3 depending on location of aneurysm over the thoracic aorta. Aneurysm when causes dissection of aorta leads to patient feeling severe stabbing aortic pain. Such pain often follows life-threatening complications such as rupture of aorta and profuse bleeding.
  6. Stabbing Pain Caused Due To Cancers

    Stabbing Pain Due To Cancers

    1. Benign Cancer– Benign cancer grows in size and eventually causes pressure over surrounding organs. Pressure over surrounding nerve and nerve plexus causes severe pain which is stabbing in nature and is mostly distributed along the nerve, which is affected by pressure.
    2. Malignant Cancer– Malignant cancer penetrates through surrounding organs and often causes rupture of blood vessels resulting in stabbing pain. Similarly local spread of cancer encroaches into surrounding nerve and nerve plexus resulting in severe stabbing nerve pain.
    3. Metastatic Malignant Cancer– Metastatic cancer spreads through distant bones and soft tissue. Spread over vertebrae causes pressure over spinal cord and stabbing lower leg pain.
  7. Stabbing Pain in Arms, Legs and Chest Due To Fractures

    1. Stabbing Chest Wall Pain Due To Fractured Rib– Stabbing chest wall pain is often associated with fractured rib. Fractured rib may be associated with pneumothorax or air pocket out side lung in chest wall.
    2. Stabbing Arm Pain and Leg Pain Due To Fracture– Stabbing pain in arms and legs is caused by fracture of one of the extremities. Fracture is caused by sports injury, domestic fall, automobile accident or work injury.
  8. Stabbing Joint Pain Caused Due to Joint Dislocation

    Stabbing Pain Due To Joint Dislocation

    1. Sudden Severe Stabbing Pain Over Joints- Dislocation causes sudden intense stabbing pain in dislocated joint followed by joint swelling and deformity. Shoulder and elbow are the most frequently dislocated joints.
  9. Nerve Lesions Causing Stabbing Pain

    1. Postherpetic Neuralgia– Shingles or herpes zoster is a viral inflammatory disease that mostly affects nerve cells in spinal cord. Herpes zoster causes severe shooting nerve pain known as postherpetic neuralgia. Postherpetic neuralgia is observed in trigeminal, intercostal (thoracic spinal nerve), cervical and lumbar nerve. Trigeminal post herpetic neuralgia pain is spread over one side of face. Intercostal neuralgia is observed over chest wall under the ribs. Cervical and lumbar postherpetic neuralgia stabbing pain is observed over arms and legs.
    2. Radicular Stabbing Pain– Disc herniation or bulged disc causes pressure over spinal nerve resulting in stabbing pain along the nerve known as radicular pain. Most of the radicular pain results in stabbing pain. Cervical radicular pain is observed along the arm, thoracic radicular pain is spread along chest wall under the ribs and lumbar radicular pain is spread along the nerves in leg.
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:August 24, 2018

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