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Scalp Pain: What Causes It?

By: Kathryn Senior PhD - Updated: 15 Sep 2019 | comments*Discuss
Scalp Pain Headache Tenderness Skull

Having pain or tenderness in the scalp is different to having a headache. Scalp pain is felt at the surface of the skin covering the skull and tends to be sharp, stabbing or prickly, with a tingling sensation rather than the deep throbbing pain of a headache. It is rarely associated with other headache symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, or sensitivity to light or sound.

Scalp pain has several possible causes but is one of those health problems that sometimes proves impossible to diagnose, suggesting it may also have a stress component.

Trigeminal Neuralgia as a Possible Cause of Scalp Pain

Trigeminal neuralgia is a painful condition that is caused by inflammation or pressure around part of the trigeminal nerve, which supplies sensation to the scalp, forehead and face. The nerve has three different branches, and the point at which it is affected determines where the worst of the pain is felt. If the ophthalmic branch of the nerve is affected, the sharp, stabbing pain that the neuralgia brings on is felt predominantly in the scalp and around the eyes and along the forehead, producing intense scalp pain and the symptoms of a tension headache.

Trigeminal neuralgia can become a chronic condition but it tends to occur in bouts, with attacks sometimes daily for months, lasting anywhere between a couple of minutes and several hours. Then, for no apparent reason, the attacks can stop and the person affected can be pain free for months, only for symptoms to return later without warning.

Skin Conditions and Scalp Pain

Various skin conditions can affect the scalp and are much more difficult to treat because the affected skin is hidden under the hair. Eczema and psoriasis commonly affect the scalp and although these are not pain-causing, they do cause intense itching. As treatment is so difficult due to the inaccessibility of the sore skin, both these conditions can cause continual scratching of the skin. This can happen at night while you are asleep, so self-control doesn’t really operate. Sometimes it is possible to scratch so much that the skin is broken and becomes inflamed, bleeds and may become infected by either fungi or bacteria. This secondary infection and self-inflicted tissue damage can cause chronic scalp pain.

Fibromyalgia and Scalp Pain

Fibromyalgia is a complex condition that is responsible for many different symptoms, including widespread pain. Many sites of the body are affected but pain in the scalp and head is commonly experienced. Someone with fibromyalgia also feels extremely tired, suffers sleep disturbances, depression and changes in body habits – frequent urination and irritable bowel symptoms – for example. The exact cause of fibromyalgia is not really well understood but it may be an autoimmune condition that affects the thyroid gland, causing it to become under active. This explains some of the symptoms but others may be due to further effects of the autoimmune response.

Scalp Pain Without a Cause

If scalp pain, or sensations in the scalp such as tingling, feelings of cold or heat, or a type of wriggling feeling occur without other symptoms, it may be that this is due to stress or anxiety. It is a symptom that is reported by a lot of people and it clearly worries them. Thinking that the sensations in the scalp are due to something more serious makes the problem worse. If the above conditions are obviously not present, however, scalp pain and odd feelings in the scalp are unlikely to be a sign that anything is seriously wrong. It may be a good idea to speak to your doctor about it, so that they can set your mind at rest, and then ask about stress management strategies or relaxation therapies.

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I cannot consume any additives, preservatives or dyes.Today I ate about a tsp of the potato salad I made for a picnic.It had Mayo that contained Calcium Disodium EDTA.I let my guard down, just to approve the taste.Had to pop my Relpax (eletriptan HBr).I am reduced to fresh foods, such as fruits & veggies.I grill meat, so there is no sauce involved.I read all packages, & have to make food from scratch.I used to eat anything & everything, now I can eat VERY little.The majority of migraines that I used to have came from the yeast in bread.I have gluten intolerance.Haven't had a sandwich for about 15 years.No bread EVER!However, after having breast cancer & subsequent radiation, something changed & I cannot have any attitudes, preservatives or dyes.Mind bending pain from migraines - the longest one was 12 days, has reduced the quality of my life.Does anyone else out there suffer like I do?
Victoria Robbins - 15-Sep-19 @ 2:16 AM
Dizziness and loses of memory is what I have being experiences for the pass 7yearsand I have never had any serious accident I can remember but I use to feel pains in the center of my head around the brain place when ever I touch the place with my hand thanks
DBL - 24-Jul-19 @ 10:54 AM
As a teenager, I was in an accident and a plate was put in just above my left eyebrow.This was 1994.Idk what type of plate it was or wheaten or not it should be checked every so often.There are no records at the hospital as they are so old and they no longer have them.My mom and gamma are gone and I have no one to ask for details.Should these be checked out everynow and again?Thank you
Lisa - 5-Jul-19 @ 8:30 AM
I used to drink heavy about 15 years ago but then stopped for a long break. I started up after a few years and did it sensibly. Was ok until 5 years ago when I stopped drinking and started caring for my mum. Was doing ok for the first year then started getting left sided headaches which was diagnosed as trigeminal neuralgia. A lesion was also found in the pons which I put down to heavy drinking 15 years years ago but I can’t be sure as I find it unlikely 4 light beers a week would cause this. Since this all started I’m getting chest pains nystagmus and the headaches are now in the middle of my head. Could you tell me if this lesion is going to progress regardless of stopping drinking?
Jad - 2-Jun-19 @ 3:00 PM
I have one area on left upper scalp that hurts when I lay on it. It is ok when I don't but I have had to encircle that area when lying on my back as it hurts a lot. It doesn't start at based of skull just the one point and just from pressure. Getting worse cause happening when I lie on left side now.
Willowgold - 13-Oct-18 @ 10:56 AM
Why can't doctors treat impressions in the skull from injuries. Soft skull areas in two-three spots depress causing my scalp nerves to fire. Botox is only used in the temporal and side of the head but can the product be applied to the top/corner of the scalp? I have an area that depresses but CT-Scan shows nothing most likley because the area is in the top back side which doesn't fall in due to laying down during a CT-Scan. My pain is starting to spread to the trigeminal nerve and will not go way. Any suggestions on where I can get the best treatment. I also looked into a pineal cyst condition as well, but the area is a benign cyst condition and no action is taking place. Any suggestions for pineal cysts aside from Memorial Hermmann hiospital in Houston, TX?
ChrisH - 20-Aug-18 @ 3:50 AM
I have a tender patch to the right of my crown which creates stabbing pains and aching. It has been on and off for around 2-3 years and is often triggered by wearing my hair up but also can happen with my hair down as it has been all day. Any suggestions??
Abc - 27-Mar-18 @ 8:09 PM
Hair does not grow properly short in some spots long in other pain in the middle of scalp scratching can'ttake it no more
Moe - 24-Dec-17 @ 11:31 PM
@Matt - you need to bang on with your doc and ask for an MRI scan!
MandiO - 20-Nov-17 @ 9:43 AM
I have a scapular rib adhesion (washboard syndrome) I allso suffer from neck pain because of this. Osteopathic treatment is helping a lot. As it is no too aggressive. If i become stressed or over physical i get pain on the top of my skull and pulse like feeling up there and around my eyes. It blurs my vision often and with out warning. Often i have to go lay down if it becomes bad. ie near vomit level of pain. Brufin 800mg and paracetamol have limited relief. tryed Norflex but it gave me bad hand tremors and i could hardly focous my eyes. Eye sight is normally good. Im still concerned that it could be causing some long term damage. Best way to get to sleep i have found is warm milk and tiny bit of turmeric will give me 4hrs pain in head wakes me. Doctors blood tested negative for artery infection in temple. Any suggestionswould be appreciated.
Matt - 19-Nov-17 @ 5:33 AM
I have always pain my scalp ad dry all scalp from the time i am working kuwait dont know why bu its always pls help me
Shine - 15-Nov-17 @ 5:58 PM
I have a sharp sting pain on top left corner of my scalp that shoots down to my throat, started today and when I press on it then pain increase (obviously) anyway dont know whats the cause just hope it goed away.
Sjvz - 8-Nov-17 @ 9:30 PM
my problem is more pain in head skin...some times the back right sight become more pain...on the other hand the full body affeted by like alergy...
sany - 28-Oct-17 @ 7:52 PM
@Tdog - I don't know, but I'd go to the docs to get yourself checked out. Better to be safe than sorry.
Mags - 24-Oct-17 @ 10:33 AM
have got a tender spot on the top right side of my crown with some stabbing pain that goes down through my head. two days now, not a great sleeper but very restless now at night with no peace. is it worth going to doctor?
weeyin - 24-Oct-17 @ 2:35 AM
Hi everyone had tho headache now for 5 weeks not a bad pain but top of head on scalp is tender to touch and left side of head where the temple is has pains too what could this be?
Tdog - 23-Oct-17 @ 4:53 PM
Hi - I have had pain on the left front of my scalp and acute pain in my left jaw "hinge" when I chew. Went to the doc, and she is not sure of the cause - she is going to refer me to hospital.My point is that I suspect my spectacles, which press into the side of my head.I wonder whether they ar pressing into a nerve bunch.I am experimenting by putting cotton wool under them to spread the load, and I am starting to think that this gives an improvement.Does anyone have thoughts about this?Arthur
Arthur - 22-Sep-17 @ 10:43 AM
Hello Everyone, I have a hot head that in turn causes my body and face to sweat. I have to change clothes multiple times a day. I have tried products with tea tree, apple cider vinegar and peppermint oil, but nothing calms my head down. I no longer use any products in my hair. Ido not use heat tools either. I leave my hair to air dry. But my head is still hot always. What do I have?
DianeO - 3-Aug-17 @ 5:14 AM
My problem started about 15 days ago. The pain first started at the right side of the head including the right cheek, right ear and some portion behind the right ear.The pain was severe.From last 4 days the pain started at the upper part of the neck, base of the head.At this time, the pain that was in the beginning, at the right side of the head has resolved without any treatment.I am very concern about this pain.Please explain me, I will be very grateful to you for your kind information.I do take some diabetic drugs.I would like to know if this is a side effect ofthose drugs.
Tomba - 6-Jul-17 @ 6:54 PM
@Stinging Headpain - Poor you, it sounds genuinely awful. I hope you get better soon and manage to resolve all these awful symptoms. Makes my headaches seem like a walk in the park in comparison <3
PrinDi - 4-Jul-17 @ 2:11 PM
Oops...My pain is on top of left side of my head.It feels like my head is on fire sometimes..I have also tried a chiropractor.This year, I have also start having pain traveling down into my neck, shoulders, and upper arm on left side when my pain level is between 8-10.
Stinging Headpain - 3-Jul-17 @ 11:40 PM
I have been in pain off and on for 11 years...The first bout of pain lasted for 6 months..It will stop for a few months and start back hurting...I have had pain last as long as 12 months. I have seen 3 neurologist and had a MRI 9 years ago.I was placed on different meds. The meds didn't help and I didn't like how they made me feel.I was told by the last neurologist that it was another form of migraine. I don't think so.I alreadywill occasionally get the migraines with thevision getting spotted with the onset of the migraine.This burning, tingling, pain can be affected by my being in buildings with cold air.My pain levels rise to 8-10 levels. Some days the pain levels go to about a 3-5 level and I feel truly blessed by God that I can push the through the days when I am between 6-8 pain level. I just want a true diagnosis..I am glad to see this web sight with a 2017 date..Thank you this web site because I still am searching for help on my own. Thank you to everyone for sharing..May God bless you all and hang in there..
Stinging Headpain - 3-Jul-17 @ 11:31 PM
@Brad - just go see your doc. It's definitely worth getting yourself checked out - especially if it has been giong on a while.
MaX - 13-Jun-17 @ 3:51 PM
Recently I have had a very strange kind of pain in my head. I was at a party and took a fall down some stairs, but I was okay for the most part. I did however hit the very top right of my forehead just before my hairline and had a bruise. The bruise is now gone and when I feel the area sometimes I will get a sharp pain in my scalp on the top of my head, close to the back of my head. It is a sharp stinging pain that is usually very severe even with the slightest touch, but it only lasts about 30 seconds. I don't get this pain if I touch the area where the pain is, only the part on my forehead where I had the bruise before. I'm really clueless as to what causes this and I'm not sure how to fix it. If anyone knows what this is/how to treat it I would greatly appreciate your help!
Brad - 6-Jun-17 @ 10:10 PM
I have being having pain on the middle part of my head and when it comes I get dizzy pls what could be the cause and what can I take advice pls.
bea - 10-Apr-17 @ 11:12 AM
I have suffered severe eye, scalp, jaw pain for 5 years. The pain has been so bad I have thought about suicide more than once. The pain is 24/7. I have been to 5 Neurologists, an Ear, Nose and Throat Dr., 2 Hearing Specialist, 2 Ostopathic Dr.'s, 2 Spine Dr's and to emergency rooms numerous times.Oh, and also to a Chriopractor and Pain Management Dr. Currently seeing a Rhuematologist.I have worn glasses since I was 19.No longer can wear them due to the pain they inflect on my scalp when I put them on. Laying on my head is very painful.I have sleep apnea.You should try sleeping with that contraption clamped around your head.I stay nauseated all the time.I get dizzy a lot. In other words, I have been through "HELL" for 5 years and still going through it.Currently taking Lyrica and narcotic pain killers which are helping with the severe scalp pain.Still experiencing eye pain and pain all over my body. Just recently quit work. Forced myself to work for the last 5 years due to insurance.Having to pay for COBRA until June 1st.
DUNK - 6-Mar-17 @ 6:35 PM
I've had this pain on my scalp in approximately the same area for a long time ( about 26yrs ).It happens just before I get a bout of common cold.I call it my "I'm-catching-a-cold-antenna" because every time it twinges ~ I come down with a mild cold.I am wondering if it is linked with herpes virus that somehow got caught in the Periosteum...
"common-cold antenna - 26-Feb-17 @ 8:57 PM
Jabilent - Your Question:
I have some severe scalp pain that result to headaches.What could be the cause of this?

Our Response:
We cannot give medical advice on this site, you would have to visit your GP.
HeadacheExpert - 16-Sep-16 @ 2:07 PM
I have some severe scalp pain that result to headaches.What could be the cause of this?
Jabilent - 15-Sep-16 @ 6:37 PM
Hello I have started having a very Acute pain that is on my head between the Crown and the edge of my Right Ear. It starts very quickly and feel to start like a bee sting but after a couple of seconds it changes to a pain that feels more inside my head and then after a couple of pulses it's gone, all within about 10 Seconds. Been having this for an out 10 weeks and it's no worse or better. On the phone the Doctor said don't worry it will be a trapped nerve but I have some traveling to do and needa second opinion . Thanks Ken
Kerabo - 2-Sep-16 @ 10:57 AM
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