Read below about scalp pain, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your scalp pain from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

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Scalp Pain Symptoms

Scalp pain is often very uncomfortable and disconcerting. Scalp pain symptoms can take a variety forms and it is difficult to find at-home relief that does not include multiple painkillers. For some people, the scalp pain symptoms can be so severe as to require missed days at work or school. [6]

Even though it may be difficult to think clearly through the scalp pain, it is important to take note of the quality of your pain and any patterns. Is the pain dull? Sharp? Tight? Stabbing? When did the pain start? Is it constant or does it happen only at particular times? Are there any triggers to the pain? Such observations may help you and your doctor find the correct cause. [6]

Furthermore, take note of any associated scalp pain symptoms as well that may include:

  • Skin that feels warm to the touch [10]
  • Flaking or itching [7]
  • Burning [6]
  • Pain that spreads from the scalp to the face, jaw, neck or shoulders [4]

Scalp Pain Causes Overview

The overwhelming majority of cases of scalp pain can be attributed to causes that put direct pressure or tension on the scalp. [1] However, there are medical issues that can affect the nerves and blood vessels of the scalp and these can lead to debilitating scalp pain symptoms. [2,3] Regardless of the source, most causes of scalp pain are benign and treatable once proper medical attention is obtained. [1,2,3]

Medical causes:

  • Neurologic: Neurologic causes such as headaches and trigeminal neuralgia (a nerve condition that affect sensation to your face) can cause scalp pain symptoms and pain that spreads to other parts of your head such as the jaw, teeth and lips. [2,3] Nerves can also be affected by certain viruses that result in scalp pain. [4]
  • Autoimmune: Some autoimmune diseases can cause inflammation of the blood vessels in your head leading to scalp pain. One such condition is called Giant Cell Arteritis, also known as Temporal Arteritis. [3,5]
  • Dermatologic: Skin conditions such as eczema or dandruff can cause inflammation of the scalp. This inflammation can cause excessive itching that may result in tenderness and scalp pain. [6,7]

Environmental causes:

  • Sunburn : A long day outside can cause sunburn not only on your body but also on your scalp. Symptoms of a scalp burn can feel very similar to those of sunburn on the body, including symptoms of pain and tenderness. [8]
  • Tension: Hairstyles such as ponytails or braids can cause strain and tension to the scalp that may result in pain and discomfort. [1]
  • Trauma : Any situation where your scalp is hit or cut can result in prolonged scalp pain. Often the injury may not be initially apparent due to location of the laceration (i.e. back of the head) or hair covering the scalp. [9]

A.I. Health Assistant Causes for Scalp Pain

The list below shows results from the use of our A.I. Health Assistant by Buoy users who experienced scalp pain. This list does not constitute medical advice.

  1. 1.Giant Cell Arteriis

    Giant cell arteritis is a disorder that causes inflammation of arteries of the scalp, neck, and arms. It narrows the arteries, which keeps blood from flowing well.

    Chronic but curable with variable duration

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, joint pain, new headache, fever, muscle aches
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  2. 2.Uncomplicated Head Injury

    An uncomplicated closed head injury is a diagnosis of exclusion. If someone has been seen by a physician and more serious types of injury are deemed unlikely, this is a common variation of closed head injury.

    1 day

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    head or face injury, face pain, headache resulting from a head injury, scalp pain, new headache
    Symptoms that always occur with uncomplicated head injury:
    head or face injury
    Symptoms that never occur with uncomplicated head injury:
    bleeding from the ear, nausea or vomiting, current loss of consciousness, feeling confused and not making sense while talking
    Urgency:
    Phone call or in-person visit
  3. 3.Cellulitis

    Facial cellulitis is a skin infection that typically comes from other parts of the face like the mouth or the sinuses and needs antibiotic treatment. Symptoms can be pain, redness, warmth and swelling of the affected area.

    Dependent on severity of infection

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    fever, chills, facial redness, swollen face, face pain
    Symptoms that always occur with cellulitis:
    facial redness, area of skin redness
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

    Scalp Pain Checker

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    Scalp Pain Quiz
  4. 4.Whitehead

    Whiteheads are caused by hair follicles becoming clogged with oil & dead skin cells. When the clogged pore is closed to the air by a layer of skin cells, the oil/dead skin cells remains white (as opposed to a blackhead).

    Whiteheads should go away within the next 3-4 days

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    small facial lump, yellow or white facial bump
    Symptoms that always occur with whitehead:
    small facial lump, yellow or white facial bump
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  5. 5.Skin Abscess

    A skin abscess is an infection of the deeper skin that's typically due to bacteria seen on the skin. Recently, infections are more frequently caused by Staph. Aureus (puts the "staph" in "staph infections"), which is dangerous and requires treatment.

    Good prognosis with treatment

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    rash with bumps or blisters, red rash, red skin bump larger than 1/2 cm in diameter, pus-filled rash, rash
    Symptoms that always occur with skin abscess:
    rash with bumps or blisters
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  6. 6.Severe Skin Abscess

    A skin abscess is an infection of the deeper skin that's typically due to bacteria seen on the skin. Recently, infections are more frequently caused by Staph. Aureus (puts the "staph" in "staph infections"). If the infection begins to spread, urgent treatment is required.

    92-96% resolve with treatment within 7-10 days

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, fever, painful neck lump, marble-size neck lump, pink or red neck bump
    Symptoms that always occur with severe skin abscess:
    pink or red neck bump, red bump
    Urgency:
    Hospital emergency room
  7. 7.Pimple

    Acne, also known as pimples, occurs when hair follicles become clogged with oil & dead skin cells. Acne is extremely common and ranges from mild to severe.

    The severity of the acne dictates treatment-type and duration. With proper treatment, acne should resolve in weeks to months. In some cases, acne is a long-term condition.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    pink or red facial bump, small facial lump, painful facial bump, marble sized facial lump
    Symptoms that always occur with pimple:
    pink or red facial bump
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment

Scalp Pain Treatments and Relief

Often scalp pain can be constant and many people want fast relief. [6]

After making an appointment with your doctor, try these at home remedies to help relieve your scalp pain symptoms:

  • If you are experiencing symptoms of flaking or itching along with your scalp pain, resist the urge to scratch your scalp. Often scratching may seem to provide temporary relief, but in the long run it can exacerbate inflammation and make your scalp pain worsen. [6]
  • Take note of any stressors in your life that may be contributing to headaches. Find ways to relax and destress. [4,7]
  • Minimize hairstyles such as high ponytails or braids that cause tension to the scalp. Often prolonged use of such hairstyles can lead to hair loss or receding hairline in addition to the pain. [1]
  • Putting sunscreen in your hair may not be the most pleasant option, so wear a hat on days you will be outdoors to prevent sunburn of the scalp. If wearing a hat is not an option, spray a mix of water and aloe vera juice or onto your scalp to protect against the strong rays of the sun. [11]

However, if your scalp pain persists despite these remedies or you have experienced any trauma to the scalp, make an appointment with your doctor. [1]

Depending on the cause of your pain, your doctor may suggest:

  • Anticonvulsants: Do not be alarmed; your scalp pain is most likely not the result of seizures. Several anticonvulsant medications can also be used to combat nerve pain. Your doctor may prescribe gabapentin or carbamazepine. [12,13]
  • Skin creams or steroids: Dermatologic conditions such as eczema can be treated with topical skin creams and steroids. If your dermatologic condition is very serious, you doctor may prescribe systemic treatment. [7]

Seek medical attention immediately if:

  • You experience sudden onset scalp pain accompanied by fever or visual symptoms. These could be signs of temporal arteritis which must be treated quickly. [4]

FAQs About Scalp Pain

Here are some frequently asked questions about scalp pain.

Why do I experience scalp pain while pregnant?

Hormonal changes during pregnancy cause dermatological changes to the scalp, ranging from dry, itchy skin to greasy, acne-prone skin. These changes can lead to new development or worsening of existing skin conditions like eczema or seborrheic dermatitis, which can cause you to have a tender scalp. Furthermore, headaches and migraines can contribute to scalp pain. [4,14]

Can you have scalp pain from wearing your hair up?

The base of each of your hair follicles contain sensory nerve fibers. Bending the hair stimulates these nerve endings, allowing you to feel that your hair has been moved. Putting up your hair into a ponytail stimulates the nerve fibers. The tighter or heavier your ponytail, the more pressure that is placed on the nerve fibers, which will transmit signals to your brain that will be interpreted as a painful and uncomfortable sensation. [1]

Why is my scalp burning?

Burning scalp pain can occur for a variety of reasons. The pain may be stemming from inflammatory skin conditions such as dandruff, fungal infection, psoriasis, or eczema. The pain may also be secondary to an underlying neurological dysfunction, most likely either temporal arteritis or trigeminal neuralgia. Electric-like pain is a particularly specific sign of possible inflammation or compression of nerves in the vicinity of the pain. [3,4,7]

Can my scalp get sunburned?

Yes, the scalp can undergo sun damage. Although men and women with significant hair loss are more prone to sun damage, having hair will not completely protect you against sunburn. Just like the rest of the skin, UV rays can still reach the scalp after one spends an extended amount of time out in the sun. Wearing a cap/hat will reduce the risk of exposure. [15]

Why is my scalp itchy?

The scalp can be itchy for numerous reasons. The most common reason is dandruff, which occurs when your body undergoes an inflammatory response due to an overgrowth of yeast on the scalp, causing itching and flaking. [14] Other common causes include psoriasis (an autoimmune disease), [7]tinea capitis (a fungal infection known as ringworm), [16] head lice, [17] and reactions to foreign chemicals such as new hair dyes or anything coming into contact with the scalp. [6]

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Scalp Pain

  • Q.Did you get hit in the head?
  • Q.Any fever today or during the last week?
  • Q.Have you experienced any nausea?
  • Q.Did you faint?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our scalp pain symptom checker to find out more.

Scalp Pain Quiz

Scalp Pain Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced scalp pain have also experienced:

    • 17% Headache
    • 11% Eye Pain
    • 5% Face Pain
  • People who have experienced scalp pain had symptoms persist for:

    • 38% Less Than a Day
    • 28% Less Than a Week
    • 19% Over a Month
  • People who have experienced scalp pain were most often matched with:

    • 40% Giant Cell Arteriis
    • 40% Cellulitis
    • 20% Uncomplicated Head Injury
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

A.I. Health Assistant

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Scalp Pain Quiz

References

  1. Grunzweig K, Keys KA. Full-Thickness Scalp Injury Due to Hair Braiding and Weave. Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery - Global Open. 2015;3(8):e477. NCBI Link.
  2. Allen DT, Voytovich MC, Allen JC. Painful Chewing and Blindness: Signs and Symptoms of Temporal Arteritis. The Journal of the American Dental Association. 2000;131(12):1738-1741. NCBI Link.
  3. Agrawal SM, Kambalimath DH. Trigeminal Neuralgia Involving Supraorbital and Infraorbital Nerves. National Journal of Maxillofacial Surgery. 2010;1(2):179-182. NCBI Link.
  4. Gilden D, Nagel MA. Varicella Zoster Virus and Giant Cell Arteritis. Current Opinion in Infectious Diseases. 2016;29(3):275-279. NCBI Link.
  5. Cojocaru IM, Cojocaru M, Silosi I, Vrabie CD. Peripheral Nervous System Manifestations in Systemic Autoimmune Diseases. Maedica. 2014;9(3):289-294. NCBI Link.
  6. Godse K, Zawar V. Sensitive Scalp. International Journal of Trichology. 2012;4(2):102-104. NCBI Link.
  7. Seborrheic Dermatitis. NCH Healthcare Systems. Updated March 6, 2018. NCH Healthcare Systems Link.
  8. Sunburn Treatment: What Works? Mayo Clinic Health System. Published July 6, 2015. Mayo Clinic Health System Link.
  9. Emergency Department Guideline: Laceration Repair. University of Minnesota: Department of Pediatrics. Published November 2014. UMN Link.
  10. Haverhoek E. Dissecting Cellulitis of the Scalp. Australasian College of Dermatologists. Updated April 13, 2017. Australasian College of Dermatologists Link.
  11. Aloe UP SPF 30 C/S Sunscreen with Aloe Vera - Avobenzone, Homosalate, Octisalate, and Octocrylene Spray. U.S. National Library of Medicine: DailyMed. Updated December 28, 2015. DailyMed Link.
  12. Roles of Neurogenic Inflammation and Topical 6% Gabapentin Therapy in Symptomatic Scarring Alopecia. ClinicalTrials.gov. Updated May 31, 2018. ClinicalTrials.gov Link.
  13. Carbamazepine for Chronic Neuropathic Pain and Fibromyalgia in Adults. Cochrane. Published April 10, 2014. Cochrane Link.
  14. Berman K. Seborrheic Dermatitis. SmartEngage. Updated April 14, 2015. SmartEngage Link.
  15. Sunburn. Better Health Channel. Updated April 2016. Better Health Channel Link.
  16. Chen C, Williams JV, Hubbard TW. Selenium Sulfide, Ketoconazole and Ciclopirox Shampoo as Additional Treatments for Tinea Capitis (Scalp Ringworm). U.S. National Library of Medicine: ClinicalTrials.gov. Updated July 9, 2008. ClinicalTrials.gov Link.
  17. Head Lice Infestations: A Clinical Update. Paediatrics Child Health. 2008;13(8):692-696. NCBI Link.