Hair Hurt? Mine too! Here's How It Feels And What Might Be Causing It
Last updated: April 2023
Multiple sclerosis can cause some pretty weird symptoms. After having it for a while and comparing notes with others, we can easily identify the common symptoms such as fatigue, pain, balance problems, spasticity, limb weakness, numbness, and vision loss. But there are some sensations that are so off the beaten path that they leave us scratching our heads. One of those symptoms actually does happen on the head.
Wait, can hair actually hurt because of MS?
Sometimes, my hair feels like it hurts! But how can that be? Hair doesn’t actually contain any nerves, it is made of a protein called keratin. The scalp, however, has lots and lots of nerves, and that is the area where the pain is actually occurring. So here’s more about how it can feel and what might be causing it.
A look at scalp pain
For me, scalp pain comes in two varieties. One kind is a bruise-like pain in an isolated area of my head. It can be on top or on one side, and can be only as big an area as, well, the size of a bruise! Now, since it is in a place where I can’t see it, I don’t know for sure if there is a bruise there.
But I can know very soon whether it is a real bruise or just the sensation of one within a mere 24 hours. That’s all it takes for the pain to suddenly disappear! If I were actually bruised, the pain would last longer. Not to mention the fact that I should remember getting a bump on the head or something to cause it!
The other kind of scalp pain happens when I gently tug my hair while grooming or just running my fingers through my hair. It feels like I’m making it go in an unnatural direction. The only thing I can compare it to is if you have ever pulled your hair back tightly into a ponytail and wore it that way all day, then pulled off the hair tie and loosened the hair, only to feel pain at the root when you bring it back to its natural position.
But in my situation, I didn’t tie it back, I didn’t do anything. It just hurt to move the hair at the root. A day later, the pain disappeared as suddenly as it had appeared 24 hours earlier. Why?
Well, what does the research say?
In a medicinenet article reviewed by Charles Patrick Davis, MD PhD, this sensation is labeled “cutaneous allodynia,” a medical term for neuropathic pain felt on the skin or scalp. It can arise from a number of causes, including but not limited to:
- Tension headaches.
- Chronic migraine.
- Insect Infestations such as lice or ticks.
- Alopecia areata: an autoimmune disorder that causes hair loss.
- Improper use of hair products such as tight hair ties.
- Skin infections such as eczema or psoriasis.
- Other skin conditions.
- Temporal arteritis: inflammation of the blood vessels in the temples.
- Occipital neuralgia: inflammation of the scalp nerves, sometimes of unknown origin.
The source also mentions that cutaneous allodynia can be provoked by combing or brushing the hair, shaving, showering, wearing glasses or earrings, and other normal activities that are usually not painful.
Yet just another strange MS symptom
I am fairly certain that I do not suffer from those conditions mentioned above. My sense is that it is indeed neuropathic pain similar to that in my legs and arms. While those take the form of electrical shocks and burning, my scalp feels temporarily bruised or aching.
Since I have both an MS lesion and a nerve impingement from a herniated cervical disc at C5-6, I am convinced that one or the other is causing not only that weird scalp pain but also an occasional, equally weird feeling of electrical shocks emanating from my neck at C5-6 up into my head, causing a clicking, whooshing sound in my ears and little explosions in my brain.
Fortunately, it doesn’t go on long, except for when it happens at night while I am trying to stay asleep. Then it feels like forever. If you get painful head and scalp sensations too, please share below. I am betting that lots of you have some pretty strange stories of your own!
What does advocacy mean to you as someone living with multiple sclerosis? Please select all that apply: