How do you describe someone who twist their body from side to side and bend it in reaction to a great pain? Like the men in the pictures below.

We Iranians have an expression that says:

to twist about/ around like a snake because of pain/ agony

Like in:

"After the car accident, the driver was twisting around like a snake because of pain, but there was no one to help him."

Is there any idiom or expression with the same connotation in English too?

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  • 3
    "Like a dying fish" is the one that springs to mind. Mar 10, 2016 at 3:28
  • 1
    "Like a fish on a hook" being another take on that same pained piscine bent Mar 10, 2016 at 4:23
  • 9
    Most of the time in football/soccer it's called acting.
    – Jacinto
    Mar 10, 2016 at 9:14
  • 2
    Actually, most of the time when you're in great pain you don't "writhe" very much but rather do something more akin to "cringing". Flopping about only increases the pain. (Which is one reason why the pictured players would be suspected of acting, as @Jacinto suggests.)
    – Hot Licks
    Mar 11, 2016 at 0:47

8 Answers 8


You have it already: writhing in pain is the usual way to express this scenario, and snakes are said to writhe.

Although there is a general transitive sense of writhe meaning to twist something, when referring to the human body, writhing is commonly used to describe the involuntary contortions associated with pain, laughter, anger, or pleasure.

One can also writhe deliberately, as to enjoy a warm bed on a cold morning, or to slink on the dance floor. It suggests more languid movement than wriggling or squirming — snakes typically writhe, worms wriggle, and children squirm. But while it isn't an idiom in the sense of a figure of speech, it is an evocative word. If writhe appears in a news headline, one would not be faulted for immediately assuming someone is either writhing in agony or writhing in ecstasy.

Writhing in pain has become much more popular than writhing with pain, but both can be found in current usage.


As an aside, writhing in agony seems to me to be even more common than "in pain" (subjective, but worth noting as also common.

  • 1
    Well, it seems it used to be, but in pain looks like it has become more common now. books.google.com/ngrams/…
    – Jim
    Mar 10, 2016 at 4:46
  • 1
    It really depends on what / who you're reading. Some writers favor 'agony,' and others favor 'pain.'
    – Adam Hayes
    Mar 10, 2016 at 7:58
  • Doesn't it depend on how intense your discomfort is? If I am 'in pain' I can probably still function. If I am in agony I can think of nothing else. Pain (OED) - physical or bodily suffering; a continuous, strongly unpleasant or agonising sensation in the body (usually in a particular part), such as arises from illness, injury, harmful physical contact. Agony (OED) - Extreme bodily suffering, often such as to produce writhing or throes of the body; severe pain. The OP says '...great pain...'. So I'd say 'agony' IS the better choice.
    – Dan
    Mar 10, 2016 at 22:44

In English, the equivalent phrase is racked with pain

suffering from severe pain

[The Free Dictionary]


The player was racked with pain after colliding with the goalkeeper which fractured his Fibula.


Adding to choster's great answer, they are groaning in (with) pain lying on the ground. To groan is a broadly used verb to mean:

to utter a deep, mournful sound expressive of pain or grief.


Your example:

The players are groaning in pain lying on the ground after getting kicked in the stomach (back) by an opponent.


I'd suggest, rolling on the ground(, writhing) in pain/agony

Google Books


A common expression is "doubled over in/with pain" - although it is also said that someone is "doubled over in/with laughter."

  • It depends on the pain - "doubled over" is the reaction one might have from a punch to the gut (or just general abdominal pain). A kick to the shins would not likely have the same result. Mar 10, 2016 at 19:28
  • I don't believe I've ever seen anyone "writhe in pain" from a kick to the shins. Most likely, they would simply do "the ouchy dance". (US)
    – Oldbag
    Mar 10, 2016 at 23:34
  • You've apparently never watched a soccer game. They're notorious for overreactions to pain. (See the 2 pictures in the OP.) At any rate, my point is that writhing in pain is generally in reference to a kind of full-body pain, while doubling over is specific to the gut area. Mar 11, 2016 at 14:20
  • @DarrelHoffman- "You've apparently never watched a soccer game." You're absolutely correct... I'm a 'Murican.
    – Oldbag
    Mar 12, 2016 at 11:25
  • -1, Neither person in the picture is doubled over. If they were doubled over they would still be on their feet.
    – DCShannon
    Dec 3, 2016 at 0:38

If someone is 'writhing in great pain' you can say they are in agony (the point is made clearly without adding descriptions of how they are moving!).

Agony - Extreme bodily suffering, often such as to produce writhing or throes of the body; severe pain.(OED)


If you are after a verb, you can use "to salmon" or "salmoning" (nothing to do with salmon).

This is named after the distinctive wiggling of salmon as it leaps through the air, when swimming upstream.

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