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What are the Different Causes of Scalp Pain?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Scalp pain can be associated with a number of causes, ranging from localized issues like damage to the nerves supplying the scalp to more distant medical problems, like thyroid disease. People who experience persistent scalp pain may want to consider contacting a doctor for evaluation to find out more about what is causing this symptom and to explore possible treatment options. Sometimes, there is no satisfactory explanation, and it is not possible to accurately diagnose or treat the pain.

Medical issues in and around the skull are a common source of scalp pain. Cancers on the scalp, along with some types of brain tumors, blood vessel inflammation, contact dermatitis, and simple lesions like head injuries can all cause pain in this area. Some people experience pain as a result of their hair styles; if the hair is pulled taut and held in the same position for long periods of time, it may lead to irritation. Lice and other parasites also can cause pain in the scalp, as can infections like cellulitis and fungal infections.

Some patients with rheumatoid arthritis experience a complication known as Felty syndrome, and pain in the scalp can be a symptom. Fibromyalgia patients also commonly experience scalp pain, as can people with thyroid problems such as Grave's disease. Neurological conditions where the nerves send pain signals when no actual pain is occurring can also lead to sensations of heat, tingling, or stabbing pain in the scalp. Additionally, headaches can be linked with symptoms like pain around the scalp and forehead.

Sometimes known as trichodynia, scalp pain can be frustrating for patients. It may be accompanied with hair loss in some people. Options for diagnosing the cause can include a thorough examination of the scalp, bloodwork to check for tell-tale signs of disease, and medical imaging of the skull. Patients should report any other symptoms they have, even if they do not appear connected to the scalp, as the symptoms together may lead the doctor to a diagnosis of disease.

If an underlying cause can be determined, treating it should resolve the condition, as well as other symptoms. When no cause can be found, treatment options may include changing hairstyles to relieve pressure on the scalp, pain management medication to block or reduce pain signals, stimulation of the scalp to promote bloodflow, and complementary medical options like acupuncture to address the pain. Patients experiencing pain with an unknown cause should take note of new symptoms, as these may eventually lead to a diagnosis.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon1001004 — On Feb 15, 2019

I get pain in my scalp every now and then. It seems to occur right at the cowlick spot or around my temples. It hurts when I touch even just the hair and throbs randomly when I'm not doing anything. It's definitely coming from the skin and not inside my head. I get mad every time it happens because I wonder if it has something to do with my mom yanking my hair when I was kid. Can you get nerve damage from having your hair yanked regularly as a kid?

By anon1000768 — On Dec 21, 2018

I have had approximately 50 percent hair loss accompanied by burning pain in my scalp. I have notice intense red areas where the burning pain is most noticeable. It has been suggested to me that it may be a compressed disk in the spine, more often the C1 to C7. We are currently checking my spine. If you have a bad back or have had a n accident that injured your back, there is a chance that compression of a disk or vertebrae may be your cause of burning pain in the scalp. Nerve blockers can, help but do not completely eliminate the pain. It was an allergist that suggested this possible cause. I was tired of doctors throwing out unfounded and unresearched opinions of it must be an allergy. It's not an allergy. Also, antiviral medications should be tired.

By anon988440 — On Feb 11, 2015

I hurt my back and neck some time ago (car crash) and recently fell again (from height off of a ladder) hurting my back and neck all over again. Since then, I have received no real help from my GP (they prescribed NSAIDS when I said I can't take NSAIDS, and I am in pain more or less each day). The relative point to scalp pain is that since the fall from ladder I have developed an intense pain on my left side scalp, and this seems to be getting bigger (area of pain) and obviously it is a more distinguished pain when pressure is applied. Could my twisted back and neck muscles be contributing to a pain on my scalp (interconnectivity of the body) or could I have developed a wholly different problem? I guess I should go to a different GP for a second opinion, just thought I'd throw my experience out there and see if anyone could comment..

By anon357096 — On Dec 01, 2013

I have been having scalp pain for several years now. It comes and goes. I have been to many dermatologists and they prescribe creams, shampoos, tell me to take Benadryl. Nothing helps. They have injected steroids and they were no help.

I went to the ER because the scalp pain was so bad. They said ringworm, but no, it's not ringworm. It's not psoriasis. They did a biopsy and that seemed to make it feel better only for a short while then bam! It's back. All I do is scratch my freaking head. It's a round spot, the hair is breaking off and it's itchy and it hurts like hell. It's like sharp claws are stabbing my scalp. I am so tired of my head bothering me like this.

I tried so many things: Neosporin, Benadryl cream, baby oil, baby powder, so on and so on. Nothing helps. The biopsy says it's just an itchy spot. Whatever. I am thankful it's not a tumor or anything, but this is horrible to live with. I am trying fenugreek now. I'm also going to try the Essiac tea. I am to see a Neurologist, but can't get in for a month. Maybe I can make an appointment with pain management, I don't know what to do or how to get relief.

People think, oh it can't be that bad. Well it is. It is real bad. The pain is unreal. This time I have had this for eight months and it's not going away. It's only getting worse. It kind of resembles a pilar cyst. You can't see a cyst; I think its under the skin.

Nobody will go in and even to try to remove anything. I want it out if that's what it is. I think it stinks so bad we have all these doctors, but nobody will even try to help. This is certainly not normal. The doctors say it's just an itchy spot but there is no way I believe that. There is pain, pain, pain!

By anon307610 — On Dec 05, 2012

I had severe scalp pain on top of my head, too. It was generally painful and brushing my hair really hurt. It would come and go seemingly without cause. Turns out it was the cold while I slept. I think it's the gyporock wall pulling the heat out of my scalp. Try a pillow or something like that to act as an insulator. Anything that insulates should work. You will feel results immediately.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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