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My Scalp Hurts When I Move My Hair: All About Scalp Tenderness
Dr Ahmad Moussa (FRCS)
Medically reviewed by
Dr Ahmad Moussa (FRCS)
Updated on December 21, 2023

If your scalp hurts when you move your hair, you may be wondering if you are suffering from a common scalp problem. Many such conditions, like seborrheic dermatitis [1], atopic dermatitis or scalp psoriasis [2] can indeed cause scalp tenderness. But so could environmental factors, like sunburn, or neurological conditions like migraines or tension headaches [3]. Or, like over 25% of the population, you may just have a sensitive scalp [4].

There are numerous reasons why you may experience a tender, painful or itchy scalp when you move or touch your hair. Sometimes this scalp tenderness is limited to just one spot. It can be mild and go away without intervention, while sometimes it’s a sign of a more serious condition that requires medical assistance.

It is a good idea to see a trichologist if your scalp hurts or feels tender for more than a few days. But if this is not an option, there are ways to identify the causes of your scalp discomfort and to relieve your pain.

Keep reading to find out all you need to know about the most common reasons your scalp hurts when moving your hair, plus:

  • What scalp tenderness is
  • What can cause scalp tenderness
  • How to treat a tender or inflamed scalp
  • Whether scalp tenderness means hair loss
Table of Contents

What is scalp tenderness?

Scalp tenderness is a feeling of discomfort, pain, itching, tingling or a burning sensation on your scalp when touching it or moving your hair. It may happen every time you move your hair or only some of the time and the pain can range in intensity from mild to moderate.

Scalp tenderness can occur all over your scalp or may be more intense in certain areas. For example, if you have worn your ponytail too tight or worn hair extensions for several hours, you might experience some tenderness around the outer edges of your scalp (be aware that wearing tight ponytails can cause hair loss and heavy extensions can cause hair loss as well, as they can lead to traction alopecia).

If you experience severe pain when moving your hair and/or notice lesions, sores or scabs on your scalp, see a dermatologist or a trichologist as soon as possible, as there is a risk of infection or a more serious underlying condition.

Why does it hurt when I move my hair?

As your hair moves, it tugs at the follicles which are rooted in your scalp. If your scalp is tender or sensitive, this can cause pain or discomfort.

There can be numerous reasons why it hurts when you move your hair. Here are some of the most common:

Potential causeMain characteristics Main symptoms
Environmental causes
SunburnScalp burning after prolonged exposure to the sunScalp redness, burning sensation, tenderness
Mechanical tensionOccurs after wearing tight hairdos, heavy extensions or tight head covers.Scalp tenderness, pain and/or tingling that lasts after the tension has been relieved.
Scalp traumaOccurs when you hit, scrape or cut your scalp.Bumps, bruises or lesions to the scalp, pain, tenderness.
Chemical burnsUsually occurs from leaving harsh hair products (e.g. bleach, dye, glycolic hair acid) on for too long.Skin redness or swelling, burning sensation, pain and tenderness, blistering, oozing.
Dermatological causes
Atopic dermatitis [2]A form of inherited eczema, which has occasional flare-ups.Patches of dry, cracked, inflamed skin, scalp tenderness, scalp itchiness even after washing your hair.
Dandruff and Seborrheic dermatitis [5]Yeast infections of the scalp are usually caused by the fungus MalasseziaScalp itchiness, flaking, redness, tenderness and pain, hair loss
FolliculitisA bacterial infection or irritation of the hair folliclesRed, painful pustules around hair follicles, scalp burning, itching and tenderness
Contact dermatitisAn allergic reaction to a substance you are sensitive toScalp inflammation, swelling and tenderness, itchiness, burning
Neurological causes
Migraine headaches [3]A condition which causes intense headaches and other neurological symptomsThrobbing pain usually on one side of the head, visual distortions, nausea, confusion, scalp tenderness
Tension headaches [6][7]A neurological condition that causes headaches and head muscle tendernessDull headache on both sides of the head and neck, tightness, head muscle and scalp tenderness.
Psychological causes
Trichodynia [8] (Burning scalp syndrome or primary sensitive scalp [4])Scalp tenderness which usually accompanies hair loss in androgenetic alopecia and telogen effluvium

Scalp tenderness, burning, itching or tingling and sensitivity to pressure.

Some scalp redness can be the only visible symptom.

Stress and anxiety [9]Experiencing stress and anxiety can sometimes cause physical symptoms, such as scalp pain.Scalp pain, tenderness, itchiness, burning and/or hair loss with no visible symptoms.
Trichotillomania [10]The compulsive pulling out of one’s hair. It can leave the pulling site tender and sensitiveScalp irritation, inflammation and tenderness at the hair-picking site can lead to hair loss in this area
Autoimmune causes
Scalp psoriasis [11]An autoimmune condition that causes excessive skin buildup.Thick, inflamed bald patches, silvery flakes, scalp burning, itching and tenderness
Alopecia areataAn autoimmune disorder which causes round, balding patches on the scalpWhile the main symptom of alopecia areata is patchy hair loss, it can often be accompanied by trichodynia [4].
Lupus and hair loss (rare condition) [12]A severe autoimmune disease which can cause scalp inflammation among other symptomsDisc-shaped lesions on the scalp, scaly patches, scalp tenderness, pain, discomfort

Is it normal for your scalp to hurt when you move your hair?

It generally isn’t normal to experience pain or tenderness on your scalp, unless you have recently bumped your head or undergone a hair procedure that has scalp discomfort as a known side effect. 

While scalp tenderness when moving your hair often isn’t a cause for concern, it is a good idea to monitor it and seek treatment if it progresses or does not improve on its own after a few days.

How to get relief for scalp tenderness at home

Until you can get to a hair specialist to get your scalp tenderness checked out, here are some helpful things you can do at home to alleviate the discomfort you feel when moving your hair:

  • Apply a cool compress to your scalp to reduce inflammation 
  • Keep your scalp clean and moisturised (here are some of the best and worst shampoos for hair loss)
  • If you suspect dandruff, use an anti-fungal shampoo (e.g. ketoconazole shampoo) 
  • Use essential oils for hair which are high in fatty acids, to reduce scalp flaking or itching and possibly even inflammation (e.g. marula oil for hair growth,  argan oil, mustard oil for hair growth, etc.)
  • If you wear tight hairdos, heavy extensions or tight head covers, gently massage your scalp after removing them and avoid wearing them for a while
  • Take some over-the-counter antihistamines if you suspect an allergic reaction. 
  • Try to rest, relax and reduce the stress in your life 
  • Use UV protection if you go out in the sun, to prevent additional burning

Does scalp tenderness mean hair loss?

The relationship between scalp tenderness and hair loss depends on the reason why your scalp hurts when moving your hair. While some conditions are not likely to cause hair thinning, many others can be associated with some form of hair loss or shedding. 

woman finding hair in brush
  • Migraines and tension headaches are not likely to be accompanied by hair loss unless you vigorously rub your scalp, causing hair breakage at the crown or temples.
  • Mild sunburns or minor scalp trauma are only likely to result in some light, temporary hair shedding, if any.
  • Misusing hair products containing harsh chemicals to the point where you have chemical burns on your scalp means your hair might also be damaged and prone to falling out. For example, overusing bleach and dye can cause hair loss.
  • Many dermatological conditions will make some of your hair fall out, producing either diffuse hair loss (dandruff, seborrheic dermatitis) [5] or localised bald patches in the affected areas (ringworm).
  • Some auto-immune conditions, such as psoriasis [11], will also cause patchy hair loss in the affected scalp area.
  • Stress and anxiety can lead to telogen effluvium [13], which means temporary excessive hair shedding. This hair loss will resolve itself once its cause is removed (usually lasts up to 6 months).
  • Trichodynia usually accompanies the most common conditions which cause hair loss, such as androgenetic alopecia and telogen effluvium, but it doesn’t seem to cause hair loss on its own [8].
  • Trichotillomania leads to mechanical hair loss, by pulling out the strands. It is likely to require psychological intervention, to get the compulsion to pull your hair out under control and prevent further hair loss [10].

Are you concerned about your scalp tenderness?

Any time you are concerned about a hair and scalp problem, it is best to book a consultation with a trichologist and get an accurate diagnosis. While in many cases, scalp tenderness is benign and will resolve itself with minimal intervention, if it is caused by an underlying scalp problem, it can lead to complications if left untreated. These can range from infection to scarring and permanent hair loss.

If you address the issue from the first signs of hair thinning and balding, there is a good chance any hair loss can be reversed or stopped. And if medication is not sufficient to treat your hair thinning, you may be a good candidate for a hair transplant. It is a safe and efficient procedure and the best hair transplant clinics in the UK have a 97-100% success rate. Check out the before and after hair transplant gallery to see the results for yourself.

My Scalp Hurts When I Move My Hair: All About Scalp Tenderness, Wimpole Clinic

Dr Ahmad Moussa (FRCS)
Medically reviewed by Dr Ahmad Moussa (FRCS)Updated on December 21, 2023
The Wimpole Clinic offers FUE Hair, Beard & Eyebrow Transplants & Trichology.
Talk to a specialist ☎ 020 7935 1861.

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