Burning Sensation in Back Causes: Skin, Muscle, Nerves, and More

Medically Reviewed By Angela M. Bell, MD, FACP
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Back burning sensations are any sensations anywhere on the back that elicit a feeling of warmth or heat. They may or may not be accompanied by pain. Back burning sensations may also be accompanied by a wide variety of other symptoms, some of which may include feelings of tingling, numbness, or itching. A host of underlying events or conditions may cause back burning sensations. These include, but are not limited to:

  • actual burns, including chemical, thermal, or electrical
  • neurological problems, including pinched nerves
  • infectious conditions, such as shingles 
  • muscle sprains, strains, or spasms

Underlying diseases such as multiple sclerosis or encephalitis may also cause back burning sensations.

Keep reading to learn more about a burning sensation in the back and what might cause it. This article will also cover treatment options, including medical and at-home treatments.

What causes a burning sensation in the back?

a woman is rubbing her painful back
Irina Efremova/Stocksy United

Back burning sensations can be due to a variety of physical causes or underlying conditions. For example, back burning sensations may be due to actual burns on the back. Alternatively, they may be due to an underlying disorder that affects the nervous system, causing the nerves in the back to produce burning sensations.

Causes of back burning sensations originating in the back

Back burning sensations may be caused by events or conditions originating in the back, including:

  • Burns: Causes can include thermal, chemical, electrical, radiation, and sunburn.
  • Degenerative disc disease or disc herniation: This can happen due to wear and tear and the effects of aging on the spine.
  • Muscle injuries: Strains or sprains to the muscle can cause pain that you may describe as burning.
  • Spinal cord injury or tumor: Tumors or bone injuries can cause spinal pain that you may experience as a burning sensation.

Can anxiety cause a burning sensation in the back?

Anxiety and panic attacks can cause hot flushes, which can cause a feeling of heat to radiate along the back.

Learn how to stop a panic attack here.

Other conditions or diseases that cause back burning sensations

Systemic conditions or diseases that can cause back burning sensations include:

  • Multiple sclerosis: This disease affects the brain and spinal cord, causing weakness, coordination and balance difficulties, and other problems.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis: This chronic autoimmune disease causes joint inflammation.
  • Shingles: A burning sensation in the skin on the back may be the result of shingles, which can cause a painful rash.
  • Transverse myelitis: This neurological disorder causes inflammation of the spinal cord.
  • Vitamin deficiencies: Certain vitamin deficiencies, including vitamin D, may cause symptoms that affect the spine, causing pain inside the back.
  • COVID-19: A single 2020 case study detailed a person with COVID-19 who reported symptoms of burning pain in their upper back and neck. This pain was worsened with light and heat exposure.

Learn what might cause a rash on the back here.

When to contact a doctor for a burning sensation in the back

Back burning sensations can come from underlying causes. You should always seek professional medical advice when you experience this symptom. Most of the time, back pain, including back burning sensations, will require rest and pain medications.

Back burning sensations can indicate a serious underlying condition or disease. Seek immediate medical care if your back burning sensations are due to a serious burn or traumatic injury. Also seek immediate medical care if you notice severe weakness in the legs, incontinence of urine or stool, or high fever

Seek prompt medical care if your back burning sensation is persistent or causes you concern.

Questions for diagnosing the cause of back burning sensations

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or healthcare practitioner will ask you several questions related to your back burning sensations, including:

  • When did you first experience these sensations?
  • Have you recently injured, sprained, or strained your back?
  • Are the sensations made worse or better depending on what you do?
  • Are they located at a specific spot in the back, or generally throughout the back?
  • Are you taking any medications?
  • Do you have a history of back problems?
  • Do you have any other symptoms?

What other symptoms might occur with a burning sensation in the back?

Back burning sensations may accompany other symptoms, which will vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder, or condition. These underlying conditions may also cause symptoms in other locations in the body.

Other back symptoms that may occur along with burning sensations in the back

Back burning sensations may accompany other symptoms affecting the back, including:

  • Muscular symptoms, including stiffness, radiating pain, or pain that worsens with movement, rest, or certain positions
  • Skin-related symptoms, such as blistering, rash, scarring, flushing, warmth, or swelling
  • Nerve-related symptoms, including numbness, pain, or a pins and needles sensation
  • Bone-related symptoms, such as swelling, pain, difficulty moving, and stiffness

Serious symptoms that might indicate a life threatening condition

In some cases, back burning sensations may be a symptom of a life threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care if you, or someone you are with, have any of these life threatening symptoms:

  • severe burns
  • high fever
  • loss of bowel or bladder control
  • paralysis, even if temporary
  • severe pain

What are the potential complications of burning sensations in the back?

Back burning sensations may be due to serious underlying conditions or diseases that should receive prompt treatment.

Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, you should follow the treatment plan that you and your healthcare professional design. This will reduce your risk of potential complications, including:

What are the treatment options for a burning sensation in the back?

Treatment options for a burning sensation in the back will depend on the underlying cause. Seek medical evaluation, and a doctor may recommend a combination of at-home and medical treatment options as appropriate.

Medical treatment options

In some cases, medical treatment may be necessary to ease a burning sensation in the back. This can include:

  • Physical therapy: A physical therapist can help you relieve the pain and regain any movement you may have lost. They can recommend certain exercises or stretches.
  • Medications: Some medications, such as muscle relaxants, may help ease the pain of a burning sensation in the back.
  • Surgery: In rare cases, surgery may be necessary to treat the pain. This may be the case for people with conditions such as leg pain due to a herniated intervertebral disc, spinal stenosis, or tumors.
  • Topical creams: If the burning sensation is affecting the skin, doctors may recommend a medicated cream to help treat the condition causing this pain.

Over-the-counter treatment options

Over-the-counter medications for a burning sensation in the back may include:

  • aspirin
  • acetaminophen
  • nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
  • burn creams

Home remedies

You should contact a doctor if you notice a burning sensation in the back. They may then recommend home remedies such as:

  • Rest: You may need to rest to ease back pain. Your doctor may suggest avoiding excessive exercise.
  • Heat or cold therapy: Heat can help relieve pain, and ice can help reduce swelling.
  • Massage: In some cases, massage may help reduce the pain from a burning sensation in the back. However, this will depend on what has caused the sensation. You should seek medical help before attempting a massage at home. Many clinicians will offer massages in a healthcare facility.
  • Discontinuing skin care products: If your condition is affecting the skin and is worsening after using certain products, discontinue their use. You can switch to a fragrance-free version for sensitive skin. Seek medical advice.

Summary

A burning sensation in the back may be the result of a condition affecting your skin, nerves, muscles, bones, or mental health.

You should seek medical treatment if you notice a burning sensation in your back. Any number of conditions can cause this sensation, and some may require medical treatment.

Seek emergency medical care if the burning sensation becomes severe or happens alongside severe symptoms such as high fever or injury.

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Medical Reviewer: Angela M. Bell, MD, FACP
Last Review Date: 2022 Jun 28
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.