A burning sensation is a type of pain that’s distinct from
dull, stabbing, or aching pain. A burning pain is often related to nerve
problems. However, there are many other possible causes. Injuries, infections,
disorders have the potential to trigger nerve pain, and in some cases cause
Many medical conditions that cause a burning sensation have
no cure, but treatments are helpful in controlling the pain. You should seek
treatment from your doctor if you’re concerned about a burning sensation and
suspect you have a health problem.
Causes of a burning sensation
One of the most common reasons for burning pain is damage or
dysfunction in the nervous
system. This system is made up of the central nervous system (CNS) and the peripheral
nervous system (PNS).
The CNS is the primary command center, and includes the brain
and spinal cord. The PNS consists of the nerves that branch out from the brain
and spine, connecting the rest of the body to the CNS. Several different types
of nerve and spine conditions that may cause burning pain as a symptom include.
pain syndrome is a brain disorder that
occurs when the nerves in the CNS are damaged. The condition can cause
different types of painful sensations, including burning and aching.
a result of aging. Wear and tear on the bones and cartilage in the neck cause compression
on the nerves. This leads to chronic neck pain along with a burning sensation.
disk occurs when a disk in the
spine slips out of place. The disks protect the bones in the spinal cord by
absorbing shock from daily activities, such as walking and twisting. When a
disk moves out of place, it can compress a nerve and cause a burning pain. It
may also cause numbness or muscle weakness.
- Mononeuropathy is a group of conditions that
can cause damage to a single nerve. The damage often results in a tingling or
burning sensation in the affected part of the body. There are several types of
mononeuropathy, including carpal tunnel, ulnar nerve palsy, and sciatica.
sclerosis (MS) is a disease that affects the
CNS. Researchers believe that ms causes the body’s immune system to attack
myelin, which is an insulating coating around nerve cells. Once myelin erodes,
communication between nerve cells in the CNS is disrupted. When this happens,
some parts of the body don’t receive instructions from the brain. This results
in a variety of symptoms, including burning pain and spasms.
- Neuralgia is burning and stabbing pain
that occurs along a damaged or irritated nerve. The affected nerve may be
anywhere in the body, but it’s most often in the face or neck.
neuropathy is a
disorder that develops when a peripheral nerve is damaged, affecting its
ability to function correctly. It may trigger a burning sensation. When at
least two nerves or areas are affected, as can happen in leprosy,
the condition is called mononeuritis multiplex.
- Radiculopathy, also referred to as a pinched
nerve in the spine, is a natural part of aging. It occurs when surrounding
bones, cartilage, or muscle deteriorates over time. The condition may also be
triggered by injury or trauma to the spine. Radiculopathy causes burning pain
in some cases, but not all.
Accidents, injuries, and traumas are other possible causes
of burning sensations.
- Frostbite occurs when skin and the tissue under it freeze. Before
numbness sets in, frostbite produces a burning sensation.
- Stings and bites from insects or animals that
are venomous, such as snakes, produce a burning sensation at the affected area.
- Whiplash is an injury that occurs when
someone’s head moves back and forth very suddenly with great force. The injury
is most common after a car accident. It can cause a burning pain and stiffness in
Certain nutritional deficiencies can also include burning
pain as a symptom.
There are other potential causes of a burning sensation in
different parts of the body.
sores are mouth
ulcers or sores caused
by a virus. They are usually very painful.
reflux disease (GERD)
is chronic acid reflux, which occurs when stomach contents flow back up into
the esophagus. The condition can cause a burning sensation in the esophagus,
chest, or stomach.
vascular disease (PVDs) is a blood circulation disorder that affects veins and
arteries outside of the heart and brain. It often causes burning pain that gets
worse when walking.
- Rosacea is a skin condition that
produces red, pus-filled bumps on various areas of the body. The affected areas
can sometimes feel hot.
Diagnosing the cause of a burning sensation
Schedule an appointment with your doctor if you’re
experiencing a persistent burning sensation. During your appointment, your
doctor will perform a physical examination and ask you about your pain. Be
prepared to answer questions that may include:
- the location of the pain
- the severity of the pain
- when the pain began
- how often you experience the pain
- any other symptoms you may be experiencing
Your doctor will also order certain tests to try to identify
the underlying cause of your burning pain. These diagnostic tests may include:
- blood or urine tests to check for nutritional
deficiencies and other conditions
- imaging tests, such as X-rays and CT scans, to examine bones
and muscles in the spine
(EMG) to assess the health of nerves and muscles
- nerve conduction velocity test to determine how
quickly electrical signals move through a particular peripheral nerve
- nerve biopsy to check
for nerve damage in a particular part of the body
- skin biopsy to
examine a small sample of the affected skin under a microscope for the presence
of abnormal cells
Treatment for a burning sensation
Treatment for a burning sensation depends on the underlying
cause. If your doctor finds an underlying health condition, they will attempt
to treat that particular condition first. Your course of treatment will vary
depending on the problem. Treatment may include:
- physical therapy
- dietary changes
- lifestyle modifications
The burning pain can be controlled with anti-inflammatory
medications, prescription painkillers, or over-the-counter (OCT) pain relievers.
You can also ask your doctor about certain home remedies that may help treat
What you can do now
Many conditions that cause a burning sensation have no cure,
but treatments can make a big difference in reducing the pain and any other
symptoms. You should see your doctor so you can receive a diagnosis and
treatment for the problem that may be causing your burning sensation. Make sure
you stick with your treatment plan and attend any necessary follow-up
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Written by: Mary Ellen Ellis
on: Apr 21, 2016: University of Illinois-Chicago, College of Medicine
This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.