A burning sensation is a particular type of pain distinct from dull, stabbing, or aching pains. Often, a burning kind of pain is related to nerves, but there are many other potential causes. Injuries, natural wear and tear, infections, and autoimmune disorders all have the potential to cause nerve damage and pain. Many causes of a burning sensation have no cure, but treatments are helpful in controlling the pain.
Causes of Burning Sensation
One of the most prevalent reasons for burning pain in the body is damage or dysfunction in the nervous system. This includes the central nervous system, the brain and spine, but also the peripheral nerves that run throughout the body. Several different types of nerve and spine conditions cause burning pain as a symptom:
- Radiculopathy, or a pinched nerve in the spine, is a natural part of aging. It causes burning pain in some cases, but not all.
- Cervical spondylosis is also a result of aging. Wear and tear on the neck bones and cartilage cause this condition and chronic neck pain.
- Herniated disk occurs when a disk in the spine slips out of place.
- Mononeuropathy is any damage to a single nerve or group of nerves. It causes pain in that part of the body. Examples include carpal tunnel syndrome, which causes pain in the wrist, ulnar nerve dysfunction, which causes pain in the arm, and sciatica, which affects a nerve running down the legs.
- Peripheral neuropathy affects any peripheral nerve in the body and is a common source of pain. It is most often caused by diabetes. When at least two nerves or areas are affected, as can happen in leprosy, it is called mononeuritis multiplex.
- Central pain syndrome refers to damage to the nerves in the central nervous system. There are many causes including tumors, epilepsy, spine damage, stroke, and Parkinson’s disease.
- Neuralgia is burning pain along a nerve caused by irritation to that nerve. It can be caused by infections like shingles, chemical irritants, pressure from bones or tumors, trauma, or diabetes.
- Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease of the nervous system. It is characterized by damage to the protective material that surrounds nerve cells and causes a variety of symptoms, including burning pain.
Accidents, injuries, and traumas are other possible causes of burning sensations:
- Whiplash is an injury that causes pain in the soft tissues in the neck. It is caused by a sudden whipping motion, such as that caused by a car accident.
- Stings and bites from insects or animals that are venomous, such as snakes, produce a burning sensation at the affected area.
- Frostbite occurs when skin and the tissue under it freezes. Before numbness sets in, frostbite produces a burning sensation.
Certain nutritional deficiencies can also include burning pain as a symptom:
- Pernicious anemia is a vitamin B12 deficiency.
- Megaloblastic anemia may be related to vitamin B12 or folic acid deficiency.
- Beriberi is a deficiency in thiamine, or vitamin B1.
- Hypoparathyroidism is a rare disease characterized by an underproduction of parathyroid, a hormone. This can lead to a calcium deficiency.
There are other potential causes of a burning sensation in different parts of the body:
- Rosacea is a skin condition that produces redness that can sometimes feel hot.
- Canker sores are ulcers of the mouth, sometimes caused by a virus, that feel painful.
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, is chronic acid reflux that causes burning pain in the esophagus.
- Peripheral vascular disease is a disorder of blood circulation that can cause burning pain because of damaged veins.
Treatments for Burning Sensation
How a burning sensation is treated depends on the underlying cause. Regardless of how that condition is treated, the pain can be controlled with over-the-counter or prescription painkillers and anti-inflammatory medications. Damage in the spine—such as radiculopathy, a herniated disk, and cervical spondylosis—can be treated with pain medications or steroid injections or with surgical procedures.
For the nerve pain of neuralgia or neuropathy, treatment depends on the cause of the nerve damage or irritation. Treatments may include painkillers, physical therapy to improve range of motion, care for diabetes or shingles, steroid injections to reduce swelling, or the surgical removal of a tumor. There is no cure for multiple sclerosis, but certain medications can slow down the disease’s progress and control symptoms.
Injuries and traumas are treated in different ways. For whiplash, rest and a collar to prevent neck movement help. Venomous bites can be treated with anti-venom. Frostbite is treated with warmth, but may require surgical removal of tissue in severe cases. Nutritional deficiencies can be treated with supplements and dietary changes. Hypoparathyroidism requires a long-term treatment plan with calcium supplements.
Rosacea cannot be cured, but can be treated with medications as well as lifestyle and dietary changes. Canker sores do not require treatment, as they go away after a few days. Topical medicines can reduce the pain of the sores in the meantime. GERD can be treated with medications. It can also be surgically corrected. Peripheral vascular disease is typically treated with lifestyle changes and medications, but surgery is also an option.
Prognosis for Burning Sensation
Many conditions that cause a burning sensation have no cure, but treatments can make a big difference. Medications are helpful in reducing pain and inflammation in many conditions. For nutritional deficiencies, changing your diet can correct the problem. MS cannot be cured and may either go into remission or get progressively worse. Surgery carries the risk of complications, but for severe cases of certain conditions, it can help reduce symptoms significantly.