ByJancy Richardson, writer at
To avoid fainting, keep repeating 'It's only a movie...It's only a movie...'
Jancy Richardson

If anyone knows pain, it's Jigsaw. Saw's John Kramer deals in pain, lives with pain, and ultimately is motivated by pain: an argument could be made that Saw is a study of pain, of how emotional and physical pain can unbalance a person to the point that they will do the unthinkable. John Kramer is ruled by pain, and knows nothing but to pass it on to others.

Pain is something we all feel, but we know very little about. How can we really measure what is the greatest pain, and how can we tell if one person's experience of the same pain is different from another's? Before we go into which are the most painful Saw traps, let's look more closely at pain itself.

John Kramer: Purveyor of Pain. Image: Lionsgate
John Kramer: Purveyor of Pain. Image: Lionsgate

What is Pain, Exactly?

Pain is simply sensation felt by the body, feelings delivered to the brain nerves and synapses. Pain is a feeling that crosses the line into unpleasant, along the continuum of physical sensation toward excruciating. Nobody is sure exactly what the worst pain the human body can feel is, but John Kramer probably has a pretty good idea... This is largely due to the fact that it is very difficult to measure pain accurately.

Researchers invented the Dol Scale, which is basically a fortified version of rating pain on a numerical scale, with 0 being total absence of pain, and 10 being extreme agony. Participants were unable to discern a difference between pains once it worsened past a certain point, which is why the scale stops at a solid 10.

Comparative Pain Scale. Image: Science ABC
Comparative Pain Scale. Image: Science ABC

Is Pain the Same For Everybody?

If you're used to experiencing pain, you will be better at dealing with it. This isn't the same as the pain being lessened, as such, more the most literal form of 'mind over matter'. For example, Amanda Young in Saw is a hardened junkie. She dislikes pain — like any of us — but has experienced years of gruelling suffering and needle-induced pain. When Amanda is flung headlong into a pit of hypodermic needles in Saw 2, she takes it a lot better than, say, a total wuss like me would. This is a case of pain being modified by psychological factors. Pain can also be affected by genetic factors, such as levels of the COMT enzyme, which is used to produce natural pain relief in the body.

Amanda vs The Needle Pit in Saw 2 - how painful do you think this would be?

See Also:

What Are The Most Painful Tattoo Spots?

Tattoos offer a good benchmark for minor-to-quite-severe pain, and a pain that is safe, socially sanctioned and relatable. The most painful places to be tattooed are generally reckoned to be:

  • Back of the knee / elbow crease
  • Armpit
  • Ribs
  • Genitals

Usually, the more painful areas to get tattooed are closer to bones and nerve clusters, or are the thin-skinned, lesser-'trafficked' areas of your body. That is, the palms of your hands are constantly touching things, whereas the back of your knees are rarely touched. This will vary from person to person, as some are more sensitive in certain areas. For example, I had a large tattoo on my ribs (not fun but OK) but found a small one in my elbow crease excruciating.

What's the Greatest Pain on Earth?

5 of the most intense pains the human body can experience (in no particular order).

1. The Tarantula Hawk Wasp

Beautiful but torturous: the Tarantula Hawk Wasp. Image: Imgur
Beautiful but torturous: the Tarantula Hawk Wasp. Image: Imgur

Brave entomologist Justin Schmidt traveled the world getting voluntarily stung by as many insects as he could find, writing marvelously colorful accounts of the pain he experienced with each one. After howling and throbbing his way around the globe, Schmidt narrowed the Most Painful Insect Sting / Bite award to three candidates: the Bullet Ant, the Warrior Wasp, and the Tarantula Hawk Wasp, the latter of which he described as:

''Blinding, fierce, shockingly electric. A running hair dryer has been dropped into your bubble bath. A bolt out of the heavens. Lie down and scream.''

2. Child Birth

Just ask your mom... actually, don't do that. The intense muscular contractions needed to force a baby out of an exit usually much, much smaller than a baby are excruciating. A bunch of dudes recently underwent an approximation of the pain of childbirth with electrodes simulating contractions (for a Dutch TV show, no less) and were genuinely disturbed by the level of pain they experienced. The deep, visceral pain of childbirth is often likened to having your pelvis torn apart, or having vital organs and muscles yanked out of place. Brutal.

3. Second Degree Burns

Second degree burns waiting to happen in Saw / Lionsgate
Second degree burns waiting to happen in Saw / Lionsgate

While third degree burns are technically the 'worst', most damaging burns, they also burn so deep that nerves are burned through, actually lessening the pain felt. Second degree burns expose soft, raw tissue and nerves beneath, and are frequently painful enough to make sufferers pass out.

4. The Stonefish

Stonefish lurk, camouflaged, on the ocean floor of the Indo-Pacific, casually letting their razor sharp fins full of neurotoxins waft in the water above them. Depending on how hard you step on the poisonous aquatic pin-cushion, a potentially fatal dose of intensely painful Stonefish juice will be squirted into your body, resulting in unbelievable pain, swelling, seizures, nausea, and possibly paralysis and death. As any Australian will tell you, they're evil little bastards.

5. Penile Fracture

Ramsay and a sausage in Game of Thrones /HBO
Ramsay and a sausage in Game of Thrones /HBO

If there are two words in the English language to strike fear into the heart of anyone with a penis... Usually caused by sudden external trauma — think a hard surface shattering an erection — the delicate, intricately nerved mass of male genitalia causes exquisite pain when severely damaged.

What Are the Most Painful Saw Traps?

With everything we've learned about pain and the way the human body experiences pain, we can predict (albeit roughly) which Saw traps would cause the greatest pain to the human body. Some of the Saw traps are gruesome, but would actually cause instant death: Saw 3's Shotgun Shell Collar and Rip-Ripper, for example. Here are the most painful Saw traps, estimated by looking at the scientific factors involved.

The Razor Room (Saw)

The Razor Room (Saw) / Lionsgate
The Razor Room (Saw) / Lionsgate

There's a reason that 'Death by 1000 Cuts' is a famous method of torture. Forced to crawl agonizingly through an impenetrable mesh of razor wire, the sharp, shallow cuts would sting and the deeper cuts would find different levels of pain. Similar pain levels would be found in the Face Knives Chair (Saw 4) and the Pendulum (Saw 5).

Saw Through Your Foot (Saw)

Saw Through Your Foot (Saw) / Lionsgate
Saw Through Your Foot (Saw) / Lionsgate

In the past, before anesthetic was properly invented, amputations were performed by getting the patient so drunk they couldn't see, knocking them out first, or just sawing and waiting for the poor bugger to black out with pain. It's unlikely that Dr Gordon would have been able to cut his own foot off without passing out, but who wants to interrupt a good story?

The Twister (Saw 3)

The Twister (Saw 3) / Lionsgate
The Twister (Saw 3) / Lionsgate

Based on the rack, the twisting machine slowly, agonizingly turns limbs until they crack, keeping the victim alive in intense agony until the neck is finally broken. Those medieval torturers knew their game, and the Saw franchise took inspiration accordingly.

The Furnace (Saw 2)

The Furnace (Saw 2) / Lionsgate
The Furnace (Saw 2) / Lionsgate

Sitting in a gradually heated furnace would bring the pain of every type of burn, rather than the faster fire death of the Flammable Jelly trap in Saw, which lights its victim in one great blaze. Burning is supposedly the worst pain a person can experience, and the drawn-out nature of the steadily-heating furnace probably puts this trap at the peak of Jigsaw's sadism, even if it's not as skin-crawlingly revolting as the more traditional 'sharp object' traps.

Which of the Saw traps do you think caused the most pain?

Source: ScienceABC, Atlas Obscura, HuffPo, Medical News Today, Imgur, Lionsgate


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