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Pain-colour and pain-shape synesthesia

Alternative names are pain-vision or algesic-visual synesthesia

The different types are pain-colour, pain-shape and pain-image (the latter type being very uncommon)





For people with this type of synesthesia, feeling different kinds of pain triggers visual concurrents. These usually consist of seeing or perceiving a colour or a combination of colours, which are consistent and specifically linked to the particular type of pain. If the colours are seen physically it is considered projective synesthesia, while if they are perceived in the mind’s eye or the person simply “knows” what colour the pain is by receiving a strong impression, it is associative synesthesia. Some synesthetes perceive not only colours but also shapes, which can have texture, and these photisms can occupy a specific spatial location, while the experience of others is limited to perceiving colour but with no other properties so it may be seen as a kind of “transparent overlay” to their vision or as a coloured cloud or fog. Some synesthetes – although only a few – perceive complete images, a subtype that bears some similarity to the typical visualisation of figurative images occurring with some forms of tactile-visual synesthesia and also with sexual (and romantic) synesthesia.

According to the study by Sean Day, just under 6% of synesthetes report having this type of synesthesia.

Pain-vision synesthesia is triggered by one’s own pain, not that of other people. There are some cases of people who experience a synesthetic colour triggered by perceiving other people’s pain, but it is very uncommon (see an example below).





“Earlier today the light was shining through my window when I had migraine, it was awful. So, I decided to paint what I felt [and what I saw]” by Aceiel in this post on the online debate platform Reddit/Synesthesia. 2019.




Here are some descriptions written by people with this type of synesthesia:


Pain-colour

“For me, toothaches are black, headaches are orange, heartburn is neon green, getting shots are bright pink, burns are yellow, and throat pains are light blue.”

(Source: This post on the online debate platform Reddit/Synesthesia. 2019.)


After a workout, my muscles are a mix of bright and dark red. But when my myalgia is flaring up, it's like a blackish red. When I have knots, they are yellow, and when I pull a muscle it's a sickly greenish-yellow. I get allodynia (hypersensitivity) with migraines, and it's like my skin is a light blue. Normal touch is orange. Tension headaches are in the red to yellow range, while migraines are a different mix of dark blue, lilac, and a light green. If I have pain in my head or neck, it's hard to see past the color.”

(Source: This comment on the online debate platform Reddit/Synesthesia. 2019.)


Pain-shape


Backache.

Source: Corinna, in the Gallery of the website Sensequence. “I feel like this after having sat at the computer for too long in a crooked posture. I "see" the typical backache as magenta coloured figures in my back.



The shapes produced as a concurrent of pain tend to be simple and abstract (geometric figures, lines, etc.) and it appears to be relatively common for synesthetes who perceive colour on receiving a painful stimulus to also see shapes.

 

Pain-image

It is much less common to perceive a complete image as a synesthetic concurrent for different types of pain, although cases do exist:

“For example when my back hurts I see a close up of ball of twine and it's kind of dark. When my hands hurt I see a beach on a cloudy day with mountains at the back of the beach, the sand is more rocky and there are some black rocks like obsidian down by the water in front of the "camera".

I say image because it is like looking at a photograph.”

(Source: This comment on the online debate platform Reddit/Synesthesia. 2014.)


A colour concurrent in response to other people’s pain

“I’m naturally good at massages, and when I feel pain in people’s backs, it has a color associated with it also.”

(Source: Lastcrazyhornin a comment on their blog Odd One Out. 2009.)


Pain-vision synesthesia can sometimes be useful

People with this type of synesthesia often explain the colour of the pain they are feeling to doctors and other interested parties, only to be met with blank looks and incomprehension. But in other situations this type of synesthesia can actually be quite useful. Some of them are able to interpret a slight colour change as a sign that something is wrong and they go to the doctor before the first symptoms appear, while others with a knowledge of anatomy can pinpoint with great accuracy where in their body the problem radiates from and what its exact nature is.


“Seeing stars” is not synesthesia

Pain-vision synesthesia shouldn’t be confused with what we call “seeing stars” on receiving a painful stimulus, particularly a blow to the head: the dots of coloured light that appear behind the eyelids are called “phosphenes”, they can happen to anyone and they are not a type of synesthesia.


Other related types of synesthesia:

Pain-sound

Pain-smell

Pain-taste

Emotion-colour and emotion-shape (triggered by emotions that include emotional pain)

This page is about pain-color synesthesia and pain-shape

This page is about pain-colour synaesthesia and pain-shape

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