Tender, Sensitive, and Painful Scalp Causes & Treatments

What is scalp pain? What are the reasons behind it? Is it a sign of cancer or another problem?


This is a common complaint that can be a symptom of head injury, headaches, and skin disorders. It may be due to trauma to the head area including skull, scalp or brain. It can also be caused by generalized conditions in the body e.g. cancer.

Learn more about meaning, causes, symptoms, if it causes hair loss, treatment options, and much more.

Why do I have scalp pain – causes

The causes of scalp pain may range from skin conditions and infections to nerve and blood cells disorders, physical irritation and more. Medical experts, therefore, find the pain or tenderness a health condition that can be much thought-provoking to diagnose.

According to Headacheexpert.co.uk, “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.” Common causes including the following factor or conditions:

1. Skin conditions

There are several skin conditions that can lead to its pain, tenderness or sensitivity. Such skin conditions can be very difficult to treat especially those that are hidden under the hair. What should be clear is that many skin conditions induce itching that can lead to secondary infections when scratched.

Therefore, it is the secondary infection can result in a painful or sore scalp hair loss. Common skin conditions include are psoriasis, dermatitis, ringworm among others. Many skin conditions are usually triggered by contact with the following substances:

  • certain cosmetics
  • pollution
  • water
  • certain metals
  • certain soaps
  • poison ivy
  • certain laundry detergents
  • certain hair products

2. Trigeminal Neuralgia

This a painful condition due to inflammation pressure around the part of trigeminal neuralgia. This nerve supplies sensation to the scalp, forehead, and face. It has three branches that if affected will have a different kind of pains. If the ophthalmic branch is affected, there will be sharp, stabbing pain around the eye and along the forehead leading to the extremely painful scalp.

Trigeminal neuralgia can develop with acute or chronic symptoms. The resultant symptoms may range from mild to moderate to severe. It usually requires an urgent medical response.

3. Blunt scalp trauma

Physical injury to the head can also lead this problem. Bruising or tenderness can actually result from a high-energy blow to the head. If serious, this must be responded in an emergency setting.

4. Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a complicated condition that causes widespread body pain including scalp and other symptoms. Though many body parts can be affected, common symptoms of this condition is pain or tenderness in this area.

Other symptoms include frequent urination, extreme tiredness, sleeplessness, and irritable bowels among other symptoms. The cause of this condition is not known.

5. Harsh chemicals

Another common cause is the use of chemicals that can result in soreness. Certain hair care products such as hair coloring and shampoos that contain sodium laureth sulfate can lead to this problem. These are harsh chemical and continued used can use will lead hair loss and will also disturb the protective oil layer on the scalp hence leading to number of problems, including this one.

6. Infections

There are several Bacterial, fungal and viral infections can lead to a scalp that hurts or sore to touch. Bacterial infections that can lead it are folliculitis and impetigo.  Sore on the scalp may be as results ringworm, a fungal infection that leads to round, red patches on this rea and can be very itchy indeed. If such itchiness is scratched, secondary infections may find their roots leading to even hair loss.

Viral infections e.g. shingles and chickenpox can also develop on the head resulting to the painful and itchy bumps. These two skin infections can cause red, inflamed spots anywhere on the body. Normally the spots are pus-filled.

7. Muscle contraction headache

According to Newhealthguide.org, “If you experience headaches caused by muscle contractions, the muscle contractions may actually cause your scalp to hurt.” Such pain can be experienced when you brush your hair and will just vanish as a headache also diminishes.

8. Chemotherapy

Medical experts have considered this problem to be a side effect of chemotherapy treatments. “Chemotherapy is the use of any drug to treat any disease. But to most people, the word chemotherapy means drugs used for cancer treatment.” [cancer.org].

This pain is due to chemotherapy is usually accompanied by hair loss. The pain is normally experienced before hair loss and can again be very worse after hair loss.

9. Excessive oily scalp

People with whose is oily can also be vulnerable some tenderness. According to Healthline.com, “You may be more prone to scalp pain if you have a naturally greasy or dry scalp.” When there is the excess production of oil and sweat, the skin pores may get clogged leading occurrences of acne on the scalp. The acne can be infected leading to severe pain and hair loss.

Some of the factors that can lead to overactive sebaceous gland include hormonal disorders, certain medications among others.

10. Less common causes

Apart from the above causes, there are also other less common causes. They include:

  • Dry skin
  • Lice infestation
  • Sunburn
  • Excessive combing or bruising of long hair
  • Tight hair braiding.
  • Climatic conditions
  • Food allergies or sensitivities
  • Hypothyroidism

Symptoms to expect

Because it has several causes, expect there to be several possible symptoms. The symptoms may due to a headache, trauma or other conditions. Commonly experienced symptoms along include:

  • Headache
  • Neck pain
  • Sore bumps on scalp
  • Red sores on scalp
  • Tenderness to touch
  • Increased sensitivity to light
  • Nausea (without vomiting)
  • Drowsiness
  • Bleeding, bruising, redness or swelling of the affected area.
  • Neck stiffness
  • Problem with memory
  • Itchy scalp
  • Rash on the scalp
  • Skin sore

There are also cases where the tenderness or pain itself can be a symptom of the serious life-threatening condition. This should be given immediate medical intervention.

According to Dr. Amee Daxini, MD – Dermatology, DNB – Dermatology & Venereology , MBBS, Dermatologist , Aesthetic Dermatologist , 15 Years of Experience,  “If there are repeated headaches, runny nose and if there is any deviation in your vision then it is more of a central nervous system problem and accordingly needs treatment.” Therefore don’t hesitate to see your doctor in case of the following symptoms:

  • Compromised balance and coordination
  • Damage to vision in one or both eyes
  • Numbness or prickling in the arms or legs
  • Paresthesia following a head, neck or back injury
  • Abnormal pupil size
  • Sensory changes i.e. your vision, hearing or smelling is impaired
  • Unequal size of pupils
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Change in level of consciousness or lethargy
  • Draining nose, mouth or ears

Scalp ain and hair loss

Patients who usually complain of hair loss frequently complain that their scalp also becomes painful. The reverse of this phenomenon is also true: this condition can also lead to hair loss.

There are causes of hair loss that may not cause any pain.  Those due to hereditary factors that mostly run in many families. So the causes of hair loss that are accompanied by this problem include:

  • Infectious agents such as ringworm, folliculitis, Piedra, Demodex folliculorum and Seborrheic Dermatitis
  • Hair pulling or hair twisting
  • Chemotherapy or radiation therapy
  • Recent surgery or high fever
  • Diseases e.g. lupus
  • Hair shaft damage from burns or other injuries
  • Allergic skin reactions
  • Sebaceous cysts
  • Skin cancer

Usually, many cases only result in temporary hair loss, but some causes can lead to permanent baldness.

Treatments, home remedies, and prevention

Scalp pain treatment usually varies depending on the causes or symptoms.  The treatments may range from just simple over the counter pain relievers to stronger prescribed medications such as oral antibiotics. Here are the commonly used treatments:

  • Special medicated sensitive scalp shampoos for relieving itchiness or dry flaky scalp.
  • Over the counter medications that help relieve inflammation or head the leads to scalp sensitivity
  • Oral or topical antihistamines can also provide scalp pain relief
  • Antibiotic and antifungal medications

1. Home remedies

Massaging it and your hair using some of the effective essential oils such as lavender or rosemary oil. These oils can help cure the sore itchy scalp. However, you should note that the application of undiluted oil could worsen the already existing symptoms.

To apply oil on your scalp, take a glass of warm water and then add to ½ teaspoon of the oil you wish to apply. Massage your scalp using the mixture and leave it in for around 20 minutes then wash it off.

More home products that can also be used to heal this problem include lemon juice, tea tree oil, baking soda, Aloe Vera, and more. Remember these mentioned home products have got effective antibacterial, antifungal, antiseptic, acidic, and moisturizing properties that make them potent for combating skin conditions that may lead to pain,  tenderness, or scalp sensitivity.

There are more treatments options that can be offered depending on your symptoms.

2. Other ways to treat and prevent it

Besides the above, there are more ways to prevent or treat it.

  • Always keep it clean to avoid the buildup of dandruff, sweat, and body oils
  • Don’t scratch it, this may lead to other secondary infections
  • Brush or comb your hair several times in a day to allow effective flow of natural oil in the scalp
  • Maintain personal hygiene including not sharing personal belongings such as towels, pillowcases, hairbrushes, combs, sheets, and so on, otherwise, you may enhance the spread of bacteria and viruses hence further infections
  • Use natural products that are free from harmful chemicals
  • Try to avoid anything oily
  • Try to always use anti-allergic products
  • Maintain a balanced diet
  • Always prefer medically prescribed gentle shampoos
  • Avoid products which contain sodium lauryl sulfate


Though some naturally have a tender or sensitive scalp that can enhance itchiness, there are still underlying conditions that can still lead to scalp tenderness, sensitivity, and pain.

Therefore, if the simple treatments are not relieving your pain and symptoms are very serious and continue to persist, please schedule an immediate appointment with your doctor. He/she may diagnose you and will prescribe stronger medications that might be very effective.

Our References

  1. https://www.healthgrades.com/symptoms/scalp-pain
  2. http://www.livestrong.com/article/155049-what-are-the-causes-of-a-sensitive-painful-scalp/
  3. http://www.headacheexpert.co.uk/scalp-pain-what-causes-it.html
  4. http://www.searchhomeremedy.com/4-easy-home-remedies-to-treat-scalp-pain/
  5. https://www.womenshairlossproject.com/hair-loss/scalp-pain-sensitivity-burning-and-hair-loss/
  6. http://www.healthline.com/health/scalp-tenderness?s_con_rec=false&r=00
  7. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/313791.php
  8. http://www.stylecraze.com/articles/effective-home-remedies-to-treat-scalp-pain/#gref