Skin Pain

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Introduction

What is skin pain?

Skin pain is a common symptom of neuropathic pain, a pins-and-needles (prickling) sensation sometimes referred to as paresthesia, or of different types of burns to the skin. Painful skin is the result of injury to or pressure on a nerve in the skin. Other causes include damage to nerves in the skin from exposure to extreme heat or cold or to toxic compounds.

Neuropathic pain may be caused by peripheral neuropathy, a disorder in which the peripheral nerves that relay signals between the body, the brain, and the spinal cord lose function. Peripheral neuropathy can be due to a number of specific diseases and disorders, including alcoholism, diabetes, HIV infection, and Guillain-Barre syndrome, an autoimmune nerve disorder. Depending on the cause, skin pain may occur in a specific location on the skin or in a number of locations, and may be accompanied by redness, itching or swelling, or by other skin symptoms.

Burns, such as from the sun, heat, radiation and chemicals, are common causes of skin pain. Other injuries, such as bruises, lacerations or abrasions, commonly result in skin pain. Circulation problems that impair blood flow to the skin lead to painful skin.

Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if a sudden skin pain characterized by pins and needles is accompanied by numbness or weakness on one side of the body; a change in level of consciousness or alertness, such as passing out or unresponsiveness; or the worst headache of your life as these can be signs of stroke. Also seek immediate medical care (call 911) if your skin pain is the result of a severe burn or is accompanied by spreading redness of the skin or high fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit).

If your skin pain is persistent or causes you concern, seek prompt med ical care.

Symptoms

What other symptoms might occur with skin pain?

You may find that skin pain accompanies other symptoms, which can vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Symptoms that frequently affect the skin may also involve other body systems.

Skin symptoms that may occur along with skin pain

Skin pain may accompany other symptoms affecting the skin including:

  • Bleeding or bruising

  • Burning feeling

  • Crusting

  • Drainage or pus

  • Itchy skin

  • Pins-and-needles (prickling) sensation

  • Redness, warmth or swelling

  • Soreness

Other symptoms that may occur along with skin pain

Skin pain may accompany symptoms related to other body systems. Those symptoms may include:

  • Changes in sensation

  • Disability

  • Extreme sensitivity to touch

  • Foot problems, such as ulcers and bone and joint pain

  • Impaired balance and coordination

  • Muscle weakness

  • Nerve pain

  • Numbness or tingling in other areas of the body

  • Shock

Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition

Sudden skin pain characterized by a pins-and-needles sensation accompanied by numbness or weakness on only one side of the body can be a sign of stroke. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have skin pain along with other serious symptoms including:

Causes

What causes skin pain?

Skin pain is a common symptom of neuropathic pain. It is often manifested as paresthesia, a sensation of prickling or tingling (pins and needles). Skin pain can also arise due to different types of burns to the skin.

Paresthesia may be caused by peripheral neuropathy, a disorder in which the peripheral nerves that relay signals between the body, brain and spinal cord are functionally impaired.

Skin conditions as causes of skin pain

Skin pain may be caused by skin conditions including:

  • Abrasion

  • Abscess

  • Blister

  • Burn from severe cold or heat

  • Chemical burn

  • Cellulitis (infection of skin and underlying tissues)

  • Electrical burn

  • Foreign body (splinter)

  • Laceration

  • Psoriasis (before and after PUVA treatment)

  • Shingles

  • Skin ulcers

  • Sunburn

Other causes of skin pain

Skin pain can also have other causes including:

  • Exposure to toxic or poisonous compounds

  • Extremity trauma or injury

  • Fibromyalgia

  • Injury to nerve

  • Peripheral neuropathy (disorder that causes dysfunction of nerves that lie outside your brain and spinal cord)

  • Postherpetic neuralgia (Pain in the area affected by Shingles)

  • Pressure on nerve

Serious or life-threatening causes of skin pain

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

  • Cellulitis (infection of skin and underlying tissues)

  • Deep skin laceration that causes extensive damage and bleeding

  • Severe third-degree burn (destroys or damages the deep skin and tissue layers)

Questions for diagnosing the cause of skin pain

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or health care provider will ask you several questions related to your skin pain including:

  • When did you first notice skin pain?

  • Where do you feel skin pain?

  • Does anything make it worse or better?

  • Do you have any other symptoms?

  • What medications are you taking?

What are the potential complications of skin pain?

Because you can experience skin pain as a result of a serious disease, it is very important to seek prompt treatment in order to reduce your risk of serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause of your skin pain has been diagnosed, be certain to closely follow the treatment plan that you and your doctor design specifically for you in order to minimize your risk of potential complications including:

  • Disfigurement and scarring

  • Necrosis (death) of tissues and gangrene, which may require removal of the dead tissues or amputation

  • Nerve problems that cause pain, numbness or tingling

  • Permanent loss of sensation

  • Spread of infection

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2018 Dec 26
  1. NINDS paresthesia information page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/paresthesia/paresthesia.htm.
  2. Burns. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/burns.html.
  3. Ferri FF (Ed.) Ferri’s Fast Facts in Dermatology. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier, 2011.
  4. Argoff CE. Review of current guidelines on the care of postherpetic neuralgia. Postgrad Med 2011; 123:134.
  5. Ljossa TM, Mork C, Stubhaug A, et al. Skin pain and skin discomfort is associated with quality of life in patients with psoriasis. J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol. 2012; 26: 29-35.
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