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7 Reasons Your Scalp Is Tender in One Spot & How To Treat Them
Dr Ahmad Moussa (FRCS)
Medically reviewed by
Dr Ahmad Moussa (FRCS)
Updated on May 9, 2024

If you are concerned about your scalp being tender in one spot, you will be relieved to know that your discomfort is likely not caused by a serious condition. Many people find that it hurts when they move their hair on a certain area of their head when they touch it or press on it. 

Some of the most common reasons your scalp may feel tender in a single spot include cuts, scrapes or bumps, mechanical friction or common scalp problems, such as scalp psoriasis, scalp folliculitis or eczema. 

However, if your tenderness persists past a few days or your pain becomes more intense, it is a good idea to see a trichologist, to rule out more severe conditions.

Keep reading this article to find out more about:

  • What scalp tenderness in one spot is
  • The most common reasons for scalp tenderness in one spot
  • How to prevent scalp tenderness in one spot 
  • How to treat scalp tenderness in one spot
Table of Contents

What is scalp tenderness in one spot?

Scalp tenderness refers to any pain or discomfort you feel when you touch your scalp, apply pressure to it or move your hair. While each person might experience this sensation differently, it usually involves tightness, itchiness, tingling, a sharp pain or dull ache or a burning sensation on your scalp

While tenderness can affect your entire scalp, it may sometimes only manifest on the directly affected area.

Why is my scalp tender in one spot?

There are many reasons why your scalp can be tender in one spot. Here are some of the most common.

1. Scalp trauma

scalp trauma

If you have recently hit, cut or scraped your head, you may have developed a bruise, bump or scab on your scalp which can be painful to touch or press on [1]. It is rather common for people to forget they have bumped or scraped their head or to not even realise they have hurt their scalp if the experience wasn’t very painful.

If you have a sensitive, dry or irritated scalp, even scratching it vigorously in a single spot can cause a small scrape that may hurt to touch for a while.

What symptoms should I look out for? 

Inspect the tender spot on your scalp for lesions, broken skin, scabs, or bruising (ask for someone’s help if the tender area is at the back of your head). Then gently feel the area for any bumps.

Treating scalp tenderness in one spot caused by scalp trauma

Mild bumps, bruises or cuts on your scalp are common and usually resolve on their own in a few days [1]. You can help the recovery along by:

  • Keeping any wounds or scrapes clean and disinfected. 
  • Avoiding picking at your scabs (and limiting touching the area in general)
  • Using over-the-counter heparinoid (anti-bruising) gels or creams to speed up bruise and bump healing [2]
  • Use an anti-itch cream if you feel the need to scratch your head.

However, make sure you get the advice of a medical professional if your scalp wounds, scabs or bumps start showing signs of infection if you experience fever, dizziness or nausea or if your symptoms don’t improve after a few days. 

2. Friction/pressure from headgear

man wearing tight headgear

Wearing something on your head for a long time on a regular basis – be it a hat, a helmet or even a hard headset – may create friction or put pressure on certain areas of your scalp. Rough edges, coarse seams, bulky tags or tight bands which rub against your scalp can cause tenderness in the area they come in contact with.

Simple daily habits or work routines can cause your scalp to become tender in one spot. For example, wearing a plastic headset with no padding on your head for several hours can leave a tender spot on your crown which may continue to hurt with touch or pressure for hours or even days after removing your headphones. Repeating this frequently is likely to worsen the symptoms. Find out if headphones cause hair loss.

What symptoms should I look out for?

Although sometimes there can be no visible symptoms of friction from headgear, you might notice redness or irritation on the tender area of your scalp. If the friction is severe, you may even notice fluid-filled blisters or friction burns, which likely cause sharp, burning pain when touched.  

Treating scalp tenderness caused by friction from headgear

Scalp tenderness from headgear will likely heal without any specific treatment, as long as no further friction is applied. Here are some things you can do to help this process:

  • Avoid wearing anything on the affected area of your scalp until it is fully healed.
  • Avoid touching or rubbing the tender area on your scalp.
  • Use a cool compress on the affected spot to relieve your scalp tenderness.
  • Keep any blisters or friction burns clean and disinfected.

3. Sunburn

sunburn on scalp

Like every other part of your skin, your scalp needs to be protected from overexposure to the sun. Excessive sunlight is not good for your hair as UV radiation can cause a variety of problems, from sunburns to a dry scalp that can lead to hair loss, hair shaft damage and colour changes  and summer hair loss.

But many people forget to protect exposed areas of their scalp (such as their midline part or balding spots) from sun damage. This can lead to sunburns which can make the affected area of your scalp feel tender in the burned spot.

What symptoms should I look out for?

Sunburns usually feel tight, sore, itchy and painful to the touch. They can cause redness and inflammation on the exposed areas of your scalp. You may also notice some skin flaking or peeling off.  

Treating scalp tenderness in one spot caused by sun burns

While mild sunburns often heal on their own in a few days, you can help relieve your scalp tenderness by doing the following [3]:

  • Keep your scalp away from sunlight until it heals.
  • Use lukewarm water to wash your hair.
  • Apply after-sun lotion on the sunburned area.
  • Gently moisturise your scalp and drink plenty of water.

4. Common scalp problems

There are a number of scalp conditions which can cause your scalp to be tender in one spot if they happen to only affect one area of it. Here are some of the most frequently encountered:

Scalp conditionWhat symptoms should I look out for?How do I treat this condition?

Scalp psoriasis [4]

scalp psoriasis

Red or purplish thickened skin plaques covered in dandruff or silver scales. They can cause itchiness and tenderness.Steroid creams, moisturising creams, light therapy, anti-inflammatory medication,  other topical emollients

Atopic dermatitis [5]

Atopic dermatitis

Areas of dry skin, inflammation, redness and tenderness. The skin can be cracked and sore and you are likely to experience scalp itchiness even after washing your hair.Anti-inflammatory medication, anti-itch ointments, moisturising and anti-itching creams(as needed)

Scalp folliculitis [6]

folliculitis nhs featured image

Pus-filled blisters form around your hair roots, causing pain, tenderness, inflammation, itching or burning.
Sometimes, if the infection is deep in the tissue, you will not see a pustule but feel an inflamed, tender bump on your scalp.
Often, warm compresses are sufficient, but if needed, you can also use antibacterial shampoo and anti-allergic medication  (if necessary for the itchiness). If the infection does not resolve in a few days,  antibiotics may also be needed

Lichen planopilaris [7] 

lichen planopilaris

The affected area may be red, scaly and itchy and you may also experience tenderness, burning and hair loss in the respective spotWhile at this time, no permanent cure is known for lichen planopilaris, you may be able to control the symptoms by taking  anti-inflammatory medication and corticosteroids

Tinea capitis (ringworm) [8]

ringworm on scalp

This fungal infection causes round bald spots with raised, inflamed red edges on the affected area of the scalp. These patches can induce localised itchiness and tenderness.The usual treatment for ringworm is with antifungal medication (e.g. itraconazole, fluconazole)

Contact (allergic) dermatitis [9]

contact dermatitis

When suffering an allergic reaction, the area of your scalp that was in contact with the allergen may swell, itch, burn or blister and be tender to the touch.

Clean the affected area thoroughly and take antihistamines if necessary. Make sure to avoid any further contact with the substance which triggered your allergic reaction.

If you are experiencing significant swelling or difficulty breathing, call emergency services.

Treating these underlying conditions is the best way to reduce scalp tenderness in one spot. 

However, left untreated (or improperly treated), some of them may progress and extend to other areas of your scalp and skin. So if you suspect you may be experiencing a scalp problem, it is a good idea to see a trichologist and ensure you are getting the correct diagnosis and medication for your specific issue.  

5. Traction alopecia

traction alopecia example

Traction alopecia is a condition which develops from frequently wearing tight hairdos, such as braids, top knots or ponytails. The repeated pull on the hair strands damages the follicle and causes your hair to fall out in the areas where the most tension is sustained, such as your hairline and temple areas. Heavy hair extensions can cause hair loss as well, as they also pull at your roots.

However, traction alopecia can also cause other symptoms besides hair loss, such as tingling, itching and tenderness at the points where most tension is applied [10]. So if you often wear a tight hairdo which pulls more on a particular area of your head, it may be more tender to the touch due to this condition.

What symptoms should I look out for?

Be on the lookout for temple hair loss and thinning around your hairline (or the areas most affected by tension). When taking a closer look at your scalp, you may be able to see small, skin-coloured or white bumps around your hair roots, as well as broken hairs and black dots. In more advanced cases, your scalp may also be red, scaly and inflamed around the thinning areas. 

Treating scalp tenderness in one spot caused by traction alopecia

The easiest way to stop and often reverse traction alopecia is to avoid tight hairstyles and heavy extensions. In many cases, no further treatment is needed. However, if your condition does not improve after doing so, it would be best to see a trichologist.  

6. Trichotillomania

example of trichotillomania

Trichotillomania is an impulse control disorder which makes people pull out the hair from their scalp, eyebrows, eyelashes or other parts of their body [11]. This behaviour is more intense in times of stress and anxiety and in some people, it can be localised to a certain area of their scalp.

Pulling out your hair is not necessarily a conscious action in trichotillomania, you may be engaging in this behaviour without even realising it. And while more severe forms can lead to visible balding at the pulling site, milder ones might be harder to notice.   

What symptoms should I look out for?

A scalp area from where hair is constantly pulled can become red, irritated, itchy, tender and inflamed and it can also develop reddish bumps known as pseudofolliculitis [12]. You may also see a bald patch starting to form at the hair-pulling site. 

How to treat trichotillomania-induced scalp tenderness in one spot?

In order to solve this problem, you would need to treat trichotillomania. This is usually accomplished with cognitive behavioural therapy. Lowering the levels of stress and anxiety in your life and practising mindfulness may also have a positive effect on this condition. 

7. Migraine headaches

man experiencing a migraine headache

If you have a history of migraines, you should know that this condition which causes intense headaches and a variety of other neurological symptoms may also lead to scalp tenderness, which can be confined to a specific area on your head [13].  

Scalp tenderness can last for a few days after a migraine headache. And since you can have recurring episodes of this condition, the scalp symptoms can also reappear regularly. 

What symptoms should I look out for?

Since the scalp tenderness which accompanies a migraine is caused by disruptions in the activity of the nerves which register pain, there will be no visible signs on your scalp. However, you can look out for the symptoms of the migraine itself: throbbing pain, usually on one side of the head, visual distortions, nausea, confusion and increased sensitivity to light and sound. 

How do I treat migraine-induced scalp tenderness in one spot?

The only way to treat this type of scalp tenderness is to treat the migraine itself, which will require the recommendations of a neurologist. However, you can try to decrease the frequency of your migraine episodes by identifying your triggers (e.g. bright or flickering lights, certain smells, stress, lack of sleep, alcohol, etc.) and avoiding them [14].  

How can I prevent scalp tenderness in one spot?

There are several things that you can do to prevent scalp tenderness in one spot:

  • Keep your scalp clean and moisturised.
  • Wear protective equipment if you engage in sports or other activities that can result in cuts, scrapes or bumps to your scalp.
  • Choose hats and headgear made of soft materials and which are the appropriate size for your head. 
  • Use a hat or UV protection when spending time in the sun.
  • Massage your scalp gently after wearing a hat or headgear for a longer period of time.
  • Limit your use of shared heated pools or hot tubs, to reduce the risk of folliculitis. 
  • Only use thoroughly cleaned tools to shave your head.
  • Avoid wearing tight hairstyles.
  • See a trichologist if you see the tell-tale signs of scalp conditions.

Are you concerned about your scalp tenderness in one spot?

It is better to be safe than sorry when it comes to your scalp health, as on rare occasions, scalp tenderness on one spot that does not resolve in a few days can be a sign of a more severe condition, such as a deep-tissue infection or a systemic illness.

So, if you are concerned about your scalp tenderness in one spot, book a consultation now with one of our top trichologists and put your mind at ease. They will conduct a thorough examination, perform any necessary tests and give you an accurate diagnosis and treatment. Then you can rest assured that you have a happy, healthy scalp.

7 Reasons Your Scalp Is Tender in One Spot & How To Treat Them, Wimpole Clinic

Dr Ahmad Moussa (FRCS)
Medically reviewed by Dr Ahmad Moussa (FRCS)Updated on May 9, 2024
The Wimpole Clinic offers FUE Hair, Beard & Eyebrow Transplants & Trichology.
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