Sharp Pain vs. Burning Pain; Causes, Symptoms and Treatments

If you have lived for any appreciable length of time, you know that pain can occur in a myriad of forms. This pain often has an obvious cause like an incision or abrasion, but, in many cases, it may be a mystery. It can be problematic and, potentially, very serious to encounter certain kinds of pain that do not have an apparent cause.

Among the most troubling forms of pain are those that produce a sharp, stabbing sensation or those that produce a burning sensation. Not only are these forms of pain quite uncomfortable and disruptive, but they may be indicative of serious health issues.

The Purpose of Pain

No one wants to experience pain, but it has remained an evolutionary fixture because it serves an important role in maintaining our health—it alerts us to physical damage. Without the ability to sense pain, we would ignore harmful situations that could damage or even kill us.

Although even the most primitive lifeforms like amoeba have pain avoidance reactions, only higher order lifeforms can actually feel pain. Our pain response may be involuntary as when we touch a hot stove and remove our hand before we recognize the burning sensation, but we normally use several areas of our brain to interpret the pain signals before we react.

On the other hand, is pain without a cause. Chronic pain that is produced by damage to nerves is a serious health condition that affects more than 70 million Americans. Conditions like migraine headaches, fibromyalgia and neuropathy produce debilitating pain that serves no physiological purpose.

Unfortunately, chronic pain is very difficult to treat because it may have no apparent cause. New therapies for many chronic pain conditions are becoming available all the time, but for many people, pain becomes a constant part of their lives.

Stabbing Pain

Everyone has encountered a pain that is similar to being stabbed by a sharp object. While the most common causes of this sensation include

  • Incision—obviously, if your skin is pierced by something sharp, you are likely to feel a stabbing sensation. Normally, this sharp pain lessens once the object is removed.
  • Nerve compression—many people experience sharp pain in various parts of the body due to a compressed nerve. Most commonly, the nerve may be pinched where it joins the spine, either through a herniated disc or other tissue impingement, but it may happen in other places as well.
  • Fibromyalgia—this chronic pain condition may produce sharp pain throughout the body and is believed to be caused by overly sensitized pain receptors. Sufferers of this condition interpret normally innocuous stimuli as painful sensations. The treatment for fibromyalgia includes pain relievers, antidepressants, and physical therapy.
  • Neuropathic pain—if a nerve becomes damaged, then it may start sending pain signals without the prompting of harmful stimuli.  This damage may occur when blood sugar is consistently elevated as is found in diabetics. Common painkillers are often not very effective for neuropathic pain, but medications that calm nerves like anti-convulsants may help.
  • Aortic dissection—in a small percentage of people who suffer sharp, chest pains, there may be damage to the heart’s main blood vessel, the aorta. The pain may be accompanied by dizziness, fainting and shortness of breath. If you encounter chest pains, call 911 immediately.
  • Appendicitis—a sharp pain in your midsection may signal that your appendix is inflamed and needs to be removed. You should visit an emergency room immediately if your stomach pain persists and is accompanied by nausea, vomiting, or bloating.

Burning Pain

If you encounter a burning sensation, it may be caused by one of many possible health conditions including nerve damage, injury, or infection.  If you cannot determine an apparent cause for your burning pain, it is in your best interest to seek medical attention as soon as possible.

  • Herpes simplex—the HSV-1 and HSV-2 viruses may produce oral or genital lesions that can seep fluid and generate a burning sensation. In addition to sores, herpes simplex may also present with fever, body aches, fatigue, headache, or swollen lymph nodes.
  • Sciatica—if the sciatic nerve, which travels from the lower leg to the feet, is compressed, then you may feel a burning sensation anywhere in this area. Sciatica can also produce sharp pain, “pins and needles,” numbness or weakness. If you lose control of your bladder or bowel, visit an emergency room immediately.
  • Rosacea—this episodic, chronic skin condition has cycles of fading and reappearance. In addition to a burning pain, rosacea symptoms may include facial redness, flushing, red bumps, skin dryness and sensitivity.
  • Peripheral vascular disease—this disorder involves the narrowing of blood vessels outside of the heart and brain.  This may be related to atherosclerosis or blood vessel spasms.  Symptoms may include burning pain and fatigue in the legs that worsen with exertion.
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome—a repetitive stress injury, carpal tunnel syndrome is the result of pinching the median nerve which travels through the wrist. Symptoms may include pain, numbness or tingling in the thumb and first three fingers. Rest usually provides symptom relief.
  • Shingles—this infection is caused by the varicella-zoster virus, which also causes the chickenpox. Shingles usually appears as a painful rash with blisters that is usually found on one side of the torso. This condition is usually treated with antiviral drugs.
  • Cervical spondylosis—this condition is the result of degeneration of vertebral bones and discs in the neck. It may produce chronic neck pain and stiffness.
  • Multiple sclerosis—MS is an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks the outer lining of nerve cells. Symptoms include vision problems, burning pain, weakness, fatigue, numbness, and cognitive issues.
  • Frostbite—exposure to cold can damage bodily tissue. This can cause numbness, burning sensation, blackened skin, or blisters.
  • Venomous bite—if you have been bitten by a poisonous insect or animal, then you may experience a burning pain near the bite. Other symptoms include inflammation, heat, and itching. If symptoms worsen or fail to improve, seek medical attention.

Article written by: Dr. Robert Moghim – CEO/Founder Colorado Pain Care

M.D. Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the personal views of Robert Moghim, M.D. and do not necessarily represent and are not intended to represent the views of the company or its employees.  The information contained in this article does not constitute medical advice, nor does reading or accessing this information create a patient-provider relationship.  Comments that you post will be shared with all visitors to this page. The comment feature is not governed by HIPAA and you should not post any of your private health information.