Pain-colour and pain-shape synesthesia

This is one of the types of synesthesia that can be called "visualised sensations" or "coloured sensations"

Alternative names are pain-vision or algesic-visual synesthesia

The different types are pain-colour, pain-shape and pain-image 

(the last of these three types is very uncommon)

Pain-vision synesthesia is normally 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, although it is very uncommon (see an example below).

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 (although this is a less common variant), 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. Pain-colour/shape synesthesia should not be confused with the non-synesthetic phenomenon of “seeing stars”, i.e. physically seeing dots of coloured light appear behind your eyelids on feeling a sudden pain (see below).

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

“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 Reddit/Synesthesia. 2019.

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


“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 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 Reddit/Synesthesia. 2019.)



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.



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 Reddit/Synesthesia. 2014.)

A colour concurrent in response to other people’s pain

I'm not sure if it's a spiritual thing or a synesthesia thing, but sometimes I can pick up on a colour around a specific area of [a person's] body, kind of like an aura around where the person may experience the sensation. And depending on what the colour might be I can guess what kind of sensation it is.

I.e., when I watched a friend bump their elbow, I knew they bumped their funny bone because their elbow was yellow. Or, when a friend told me how their leg was sore, I knew it was muscle pain because I saw red. If it were blue it would be nerve pain and pale yellow for bone pain, etc.”

(SourceThis comment on Reddit/Synesthesia. 2021.)

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:




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


This page last updated: 01 December 2023

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

This page is about pain-colour synaesthesia, pain-shape synaesthesia and visualised sensations


  1. I always found it interesting how visual Synaesthesia where people perceive shapes, colours, texture, and movement felt so close to how I experience pain, but I couldn’t find anything about it until now!! I currently have diffused soft white-light pain in my back that’s a small circle. Five minutes ago it was a dull grey ball on the side of my neck. With my arm outstretched, pulling on the muscle running from the side of my neck to my shoulder, it’s a bright (but not sharp) pain that’s a warm white light, kind of a line that’s thicker in the middle and coming to a point at the ends, and slightly curved. The texture of the light is like when you mess with the focus on a camera and the lights transform from circles into stars.

  2. OMG I found my people.