Skin areas can be painful due to a number of reasons including rash, skin infections, or pressure on nerves.
Depending on the cause, skin pain may occur in a specific location on the skin or in a number of locations. It may be accompanied by redness, itching or swelling, or by other skin symptoms.
Skin pain is a common symptom of neuropathic pain. It is sometimes referred to as paresthesia, a pins-and-needles (prickling) sensation.
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 pain may also be due to different types of burns or bites to the skin.
Any skin pain needs medical investigation.
There are more than 100 different medical conditions that may cause skin pain.
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.
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. Poor circulation of blood to the skin may also cause pain.
Food allergies have also been associated with some pains in the skin.
Skin pain may result from any of the following:
Burn from severe cold or heat
Cellulitis (infection of skin and underlying tissues)
Exposure to toxic or poisonous compounds
Injury to nerves
Neuralgia (a sharp pain that follows the path of a nerve and is due to irritation or damage to the nerve)
Peripheral neuropathy (disorder that causes dysfunction of nerves that lie outside your brain and spinal cord. 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)
Pressure on nerves
Trauma or injury
Shingles is a skin rash caused by a nerve and skin inflammation from the same virus that previously caused chickenpox.
Anyone who has ever had chickenpox is at risk for the development of shingles, although it occurs most commonly in people over the age of 60.
Even when there is no rash, the pain of shingles may be apparent. Before a rash is visible, the patient may notice several days to a week of burning pain and sensitive skin. When the characteristic rash is not yet apparent, it may be difficult to determine the cause of the often severe pain.
Shingles is contagious and can be spread from an affected person to babies, children, or adults who have not had chickenpox. But instead of developing shingles, these people develop chickenpox. Once they have had chickenpox, people cannot catch shingles (or contract the virus) from someone else. Once infected, however, people have the potential to develop shingles later in life.
If your skin pain is persistent or causes you concern, seek prompt medical care.
There are some serious symptoms associated with skin pain that might indicate a life-threatening condition.
For example, 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.
Other serious conditions 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)
You should seek immediate medical care if such symptoms occur.
Topical pain relievers (or external analgesics) are the most common form of treatment for skin pain.
Topical analgesics are pain medications that are applied directly to the skin instead of being swallowed or injected. They may come in creams, lotions, gel or patch form. Topical pain medications work in different ways for different conditions
Some products soothe sunburn or minor burns, while others are used for itching and skin irritations due to eczemas, contact allergies, or insect bites.
If severe, antihistamines or oral analgesics may be required.
A device called Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) is sometimes used to relieve skin pain. This portable battery operated device generates electrical impulses that are sent to different parts of the body whereby the electrical impulses block the pain. This device has electrodes that are attached to the region of the skin experiencing the pain.
Medications to control neuralgia pain may include:
Antidepressant medications (amitriptyline, nortriptyline, or duloxetine)
Anti-seizure medications (carbamazepine, gabapentin, lamotrigine, phenytoin, or pregabalin)
Mild over-the-counter analgesics (aspirin, acetaminophen, or nurofen)
Narcotic analgesics (codeine) for short-term relief of severe pain
Topical creams containing capsaicin
Other treatments may include:
Local injections of pain-relieving (anesthetic) drugs
Treatment for shingles may include:
Drugs that fight viruses (antivirals) to reduce the severity and duration of the rash. In addition to antiviral medications, pain medications may be needed for symptom control.
Both non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications and narcotic pain-control medications may be used for pain management in shingles.
Cool compresses and anti-itching lotions, such as calamine lotionmay also provide relief.
If skin pain is severe or you cannot identify its cause, it is important to seek medical advice.
Some pains in the skin can indicate an underlying health problem that can only be identified after examination by a doctor.