Scalp Pain

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What is scalp pain?

Scalp pain is a common symptom of head injury, headaches, and skin conditions. It may result from trauma to the head region, including the brain, skull or scalp. It can occur in conditions that cause headaches or skin irritation, or in more generalized conditions, such as cancer.

Trauma to the head is a common cause of scalp pain. It includes brain injury, skull fracture, or concussion, all of which may occur immediately after the traumatic episode or up to several hours or days afterward. A brain contusion (bruising) from trauma may also result in scalp pain and may indicate bleeding or swelling inside the skull.

Headaches can lead to scalp pain and to pain in any area of the face, neck or head. Several types of headaches may cause scalp pain, such as migraine, sinus headache, tension headache, and those caused by nerve involvement such as occipital neuralgia. Other conditions can result in pain, infection or irritation to the scalp, such as contact dermatitis, lesions from head lice, and basal cell carcinoma or other skin cancers.

Scalp pain can indicate a serious condition. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, experience scalp pain with any of the following symptoms: sudden blindness in one or both eyes, confusion or loss of consciousness for even a brief moment; blood or fluid draining from your nose, mouth or ears; uncontrolled jerky movements; numbness following injury to the head, neck or back; sensory changes (vision, hearing, smelling); seizure; or unequal size of pupils.

If you are being treated for scalp pain and it is persistent or causes you concern, seek prompt medical care.

What other symptoms might occur with scalp pain?

Scalp pain may accompany other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Symptoms that frequently affect the head may also involve other body systems.

Headache symptoms that may occur with scalp pain

Scalp pain may accompany other symptoms related to headache including:

  • Aura (sensory changes that may precede a migraine)
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Nausea with or without vomiting
  • Neck pain
  • Increased sensitivity to light
  • Scalp tenderness to touch
  • Vice-like pain around the head

Trauma symptoms that may occur with scalp pain

Scalp pain may accompany other symptoms related to trauma including:

Other symptoms that may occur with scalp pain

Scalp pain may accompany other symptoms including:

  • Fever
  • Itchy scalp
  • Lice in the hair
  • Pain in joints
  • Persistent skin sore that does not heal
  • Rash
  • Red bite marks on the scalp
  • White nits (lice eggs) in the hair or on the scalp

Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition

In some cases, scalp pain may be a symptom of a life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have any of these symptoms including:

  • Abnormal pupil size or nonreactivity to light
  • Confusion or loss of consciousness for even a brief moment
  • Fainting or change in level of consciousness or lethargy
  • Fluid draining from the nose, mouth or ears (clear or bloody)
  • Impaired balance and coordination
  • Loss of vision in one or both eyes
  • Numbness or tingling in the arms or legs
  • Paresthesia following a head, neck or back injury
  • Seizure
  • Sensory changes (vision, hearing, smelling)
  • Unequal size of pupils

What causes scalp pain?

There are various causes of scalp pain, including trauma, headache or infection. Injuries to the head, neck, scalp, skull or brain are commonly associated with scalp pain. Headaches may cause scalp pain as the result of vascular swelling, muscular tension, or nerve pain. Scalp pain is also caused by any condition that infects or irritates the surface of the scalp itself, such as skin disorders and exposure to infectious agents. Scalp pain is also a feature of many types of headaches.

Traumatic causes of scalp pain

Scalp pain may be caused by trauma including:

  • Concussion
  • Contusions
  • Head injury
  • Laceration
  • Scalp injury
  • Skull fractures
  • Sting or bite injuries

Headache causes of scalp pain

Scalp pain may be caused by headaches including:

  • Cervical migraine
  • Cervicogenic headache
  • Occipital neuralgia
  • Migraine headache
  • Tension-type headache

Malignant causes of scalp pain

Scalp pain may be caused by malignancies including:

Other causes of scalp pain

Scalp pain may be caused by other causes including:

    Serious or life-threatening causes of scalp pain

    In some cases, scalp pain may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. These conditions include:

    Questions for diagnosing the cause of scalp pain

    To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your scalp pain including:

    • When did you first notice your scalp pain?
    • When do you feel scalp pain?
    • Do you have any other symptoms?
    • What medications are you taking?
    • Have you injured your head recently?

    What are the potential complications of scalp pain?

    Because scalp pain can be due to serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:

    • Blindness
    • Brain damage
    • Chronic or severe headaches
    • Disability
    • Paralysis
    • Spread of cancer
    • Spread of infection
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    Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
    Last Review Date: 2021 Jan 9
    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.
    1. Head injury. MedlinePlus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000028.htm.
    2. NINDS headache information page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/headache/headache.htm.