Dysesthesia causes painful, itchy, burning, or restrictive sensations without an immediate trigger. It occurs due to nerve damage and is common in multiple sclerosis, diabetes, and shingles.

Dysesthesia derives from two ancient Greek words that mean “abnormal sensation.” Dysesthesia symptoms involve physical touch sensations, such as pain, itching, or burning.

While these feelings are often a typical response to stimuli, dysesthesia sensations occur due to nerve (neuropathic) damage from a stroke, carpal tunnel syndrome, and various other neurological disorders.

These sensations can occur when nothing touches the skin or as an exaggerated response to mild touch.

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Dysesthesia is a set of symptoms that occur due to nerve damage. Impaired nerve function can cause the brain to stimulate abnormal sensations, such as tingling and stabbing pains, without an outside cause.

According to research, the burning, tingling, or aching pain of dysesthesia affects 12–28% of people with multiple sclerosis (MS).

Dysesthesia can be painful, but it is not a sign of tissue damage. The body tissues can remain fully functional and healthy, although prolonged misuse or lack of use due to pain and discomfort can cause damage, such as muscle contractures.

Dysesthesia symptoms vary between individuals, but they tend to affect the skin, scalp, face, mouth, torso, arms, and legs.

Common symptoms include:

  • an itching or burning sensation
  • a restrictive feeling, especially around the trunk or torso, sometimes called an “MS hug
  • feelings of tingling or pins and needles
  • the sensation of electric shocks
  • sharp, stabbing pains
  • pain or irritation, even from a light touch or no contact
  • an aching feeling similar to that of sore muscles
  • feeling as if there is hair loss

Depending on the underlying cause, the sensations may be either acute — happening suddenly and resolving after a while — or chronic, which means they persist.

Many cases of dysesthesia occur due to progressive conditions, so they often worsen over time.

Different types of dysesthesia affect different body parts, but they all result in skin discomfort without damage to the skin.

Scalp dysesthesia

Most people with this type of dysesthesia are likely to experience an intensely painful burning sensation under or on the skin of the scalp.

Cutaneous dysesthesia

Most people with this type of dysesthesia have excessive sensitivity to the nerve fibers in the skin and do not respond in the usual way to outside stimuli or touch. In some cases, loose-fitting clothes or a passing breeze may trigger sensations of pain, burning, or irritation.

Occlusal dysesthesia

Someone with this type of dysesthesia will feel as though their bite is uncomfortable without any apparent reason.

Occlusal dysesthesia is an uncommon side effect or complication of dental procedures. Stress and other psychological factors may trigger it.

Oral dysesthesia

Oral dysesthesia involves an unexplained sensation of pain or burning in the mouth or the oral structures, which include the jaw, tongue, and gums.

Doctors do not know exactly why this sensation develops, but it may have psychological roots. A person may also experience changes in their sense of taste or their response to temperature. They may also have difficulty speaking and eating.

Dysesthesia is a symptom of nerve-damaging conditions, in particular, those that target the central nervous system or the spinal cord and brain, such as MS. Dyesthesia is a common symptom of MS flares.

MS is an autoimmune condition where the body damages or destroys myelin, the layer of protective fatty tissue that allows electrical impulses to pass through.

Myelin damage usually causes a temporary flare of symptoms. However, extensive myelin damage can cause permanent nerve damage, leading to intense, long-term pain.

Multiple sclerosis resources

Visit our dedicated hub for more research-backed information and in-depth resources on multiple sclerosis (MS).

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Anything that damages the nerves or nervous system can cause dysesthesia, including:

If the person does not have a long-term condition, such as MS, then dysesthesia usually resolves after a few months. Treatment of the underlying condition will often lessen the dysesthesia.

Symptoms can improve with medications that change how the central nervous system processes pain.

Common pharmaceutical or surgical treatment options include:

Some natural treatment options might help relieve chronic pain, including nerve pain such as dysesthesia.

Possible options include:

Topical treatments and remedies

  • applying warm or cool compresses to the affected area
  • using skin-calming lotions, creams, and washes that contain calamine or aloe
  • choosing loose-fitting, cool, preferably cotton clothing and bedding
  • wearing pressurized socks, stockings, pants, or gloves when possible
  • taking lukewarm baths with Epsom salts and colloidal oats

Lifestyle changes


  • trying alternative therapies, such as massage, chiropractic, hypnosis, acupuncture or acupressure, and hydrotherapy
  • using biofeedback therapy, which involves using electrical sensors to determine which actions or reactions lead to symptoms and then trying to find ways to change or manage them
  • joining a support group or getting counseling

There is not enough evidence to support all of the methods above, but an individual can try various practices to find out what works for them.

Some home remedies may also help reduce the intensity or frequency of symptoms.

Dysesthesia is an abnormal physical touch sensation without outside cause. It often involves painful, itchy, burning, or restrictive sensations.

It occurs due to nerve damage and is common in people with multiple sclerosis, diabetes, and shingles. Dysesthesia can occur anywhere on the body.

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