A sharp pain in the head is a severe type of headache that feels like a stabbing ache in your head. Although most causes of the sharp shooting pain in the head are nothing to worry about, the severe pain can affect your daily activities and cause a lot of discomfort. Common reasons for a sharp pain in your head are migraines, ice pick headaches, irritation to nerves in your head, drinking too much alcohol, and even eating something cold can cause a shooting pain in your head.
A sharp stabbing pain on the inside of the elbow could be due to bursitis or inflammation of the bursa of the elbow joint. Since you are shifting, it is possible you strained your elbow. It can also be due to deep vein thrombosis. It is difficult to comment beyond this at this stage. Sharp stabbing intermittent occasional pain inside shoulder is near the insertion of the subscapularis muscle.
However, on rare occasions, the sharp pain in the head may be a sign of a more serious medical condition. This is especially true if it is accompanied by other symptoms. For example, encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), a brain tumor, or stroke can all cause a severe headache with sharp head pains and are usually accompanied by other symptoms. At the end of the article, you will learn when you should see a doctor if you frequently have sharp headaches.
Before looking at the various reasons of a sharp pain in the head, let’s look to see what happens in the brain that causes bad, severe headaches.
Why Do You Get Sharp Pains in the Head?
The brain tissue itself can’t experience pain because it doesn’t contain any nerves. However, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, a series of nerves in your head react to sensations from your scalp, blood vessels around your skull, the brain’s lining, and the face (mouth, neck, ears, eyes, and throat).1
These nerves can react to various triggers like stress, medicines, or certain foods and cause a sharp painful sensation in your head and temples. Because these nerves are connected with other organs of your body, it explains why severe headaches are sometimes accompanied by nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light, and trouble concentrating.
Causes of Sharp Pains in the Head
Depending on the cause of your severe headache, you can feel stabbing shooting pains anywhere in your head. However, some conditions cause pain at the back of your head or on just the left side or right side of your head. Usually, knowing what triggers headaches and what the accompanying symptoms are can help you diagnose the cause of pain.
Migraines can cause a severe throbbing pulsating pain on just one side of the head. Along with the severe pain, you may also have nausea, vomiting, tingling in the head and sensitivity to light or sound. The sharp pain in the head can get worse by physical activity, moving, or sneezing.
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the severe headache is caused by abnormal brain activity which affects the nerves and blood vessels in the lining of your brain.1
Doctors from the National Health Service in the United Kingdom say that there are 2 types of migraine that cause severe headaches:2
- A migraine with aura. The severe headache is preceded by flashing lights, blind spots, tingling in your hand or face, or dizziness.
- A migraine without aura. The migraine isn’t preceded by any vision changes or other neurological symptoms. The sudden, sharp pain on one side of the head starts suddenly without any warning.
Some migraine attacks can be caused by a specific trigger or happen at regular times. For example, some women have regular migraines just before their period. Sometimes, stress, tiredness or certain foods can trigger a migraine. A hormonal imbalance can be the reason for suffering from migraines before your period.
If you suffer from frequent sharp pains in your head, it could be due to a nutritional deficiency that has been linked to frequent migraines.
There are many natural ways to prevent and ease the throbbing pain of a migraine. Some essential oils might effective at providing migraine relief. You could try putting some essential oils like peppermint, lavender, or chamomile in a diffuser to inhale the vapor and get rid of your agonizing headache fast.
One of my top 10 tips to relieve migraines naturally is to drink enough water to keep yourself hydrated. A study published in the European Journal f Neurology found that increasing water intake can help to prevent headaches. They also found that drinking more water can help to reduce the length and intensity of migraines.3
Ice pick headaches
If you have sharp stabbing pains in your head that last a few seconds, you may suffer from ice pick headaches. These shooting headaches usually only affect one side of the head and give you severe jolts behind one of your eyes.
Dr. William Blahd on WebMD says that ice pick headaches are not caused by a serious medical condition. Certain conditions like stress, bright lights or sudden movements can trigger the stabbing pains. He recommends keeping a headache diary to help identify triggers so that you can prevent further headache attacks.4
If you experience brief sharp shooting head pains, it is important to get them checked out by a doctor first so that they can rule out any serious medical condition.
Eating something cold
Eating cold food like ice cream, cold drinks with ice, or milkshakes ice can cause a sudden, sharp head pain. This type of brief intense head pain is also called “brain freeze” or an “ice cream headache.” The sharp pain can be felt at the front of your head and can affect both sides.
The reason for the sharp pain in the head after eating something cold is possibly due to the cold affecting blood vessels your head. Doctors from the Mayo Clinic explain that the freezing cold food or drink causes the blood vessels to constrict. The sharp pain happens when the blood vessels relax and blood continues to flow normally.5
The sharp stabbing head pains associated with eating something cold usually fade away very quickly. However, if you frequently suffer from “ice cream headaches,” you should try drinking something warmer than whatever caused the headache and drink slowly.
Cluster headaches cause severe pain on one side of your head around one of your eyes. Cluster headaches are caused by a nerve that is responsible for pain in your face. These types of severe headaches can come on very suddenly and the pain can be more intense than a migraine attack. Some people only have one severe attack a year whereas others experience multiple stabbing headaches a day.
Dr. Richard Senelick on WebMD says that the sharp pain in the head behind your eye can spread to other areas of your face and make your scalp tender. You may also feel your blood pulsing inside your head. The cluster headaches tend to occur at regular times and therefore are sometimes called “alarm clock headaches.”6
Cluster headaches don’t cause nausea or vomiting. Along with the sharp pains in your head, you may also experience a swollen or drooping eye, eye redness, runny nose, increased sensitivity to light or sweating. Keeping a “headache diary” can help to identify triggers to help prevent cluster headache attacks in the future.
A tension headache (often called stress headaches) is the most common type of headache. Tension headaches cause mild to intense pain, tightness, or pressure around your forehead or the back of your head and neck. It may be felt like a clamp squeezing the skull.
Severe tension headaches can cause severe pains in your head. However, according to the Cleveland Clinic, tension headaches are rarely severe.7
If the severe stabbing pain is felt at the back of your head, it could be a symptom of occipital neuralgia. The head pain is caused by irritation of the occipital nerves that run from the top of your neck to the back of your head.
Neurologist, Dr. Danette C. Taylor says that some of the causes of occipital neuralgia are an injury to the neck or back of the head, arthritis, tight neck muscles, or spinal damage. Sometimes, diabetes can cause occipital neuralgia because of infection or inflammation to blood vessels in the back of the neck.8
To help get rid of the pain caused by occipital neuralgia, Dr. Taylor recommends using a heat pack, getting you a neck massage, having a course of physical therapy, and getting plenty of rest. If the pain is very severe, you doctor may recommend treatments to block the nerve pain.
One of the consequences of drinking too much alcohol is a severe hangover that causes an agonizing throbbing headache. Waking up in the morning with an alcohol hangover headache is one of the most common types of headache. Depending on the amount of alcohol consumed, the pain can range from a mild dull ache to a severe stabbing pain in your head.
Researchers have found that it’s not just dehydration that causes alcohol-induced headaches. The journal PLoS One published a study showing that ethanol in alcohol causes an inflammatory response in the blood vessels in your head. This, together with dehydration, can cause severe headaches after consuming a lot of alcoholic beverages.9
The research also found that migraine sufferers are prone to more severe hangover headaches. Excessive alcohol use can damage your liver and many people are surprised at how long alcohol actually stays in their system.
Trigeminal neuralgia (TN), also called tic douloureux, is a chronic pain condition caused by disorder of the nerves in your face. One of the symptoms of Trigeminal neuralgia is intense pain in your head. The most common type of pain that trigeminal neuralgia causes affects only one side of the face at a time. Doctors from WebMD say that the nerve pain can also affect your left or right side of your forehead, however, sometimes, the pain can be felt on both sides of your head.10
Trigeminal neuralgia can be triggered very easily by something as simple as brushing your teeth, washing your face or eating. The facial and head pain that trigeminal neuralgia causes can affect your daily activities and is usually managed by medication.11
Serious cases of encephalitis can cause very severe headaches along with nausea, vomiting, speech problems, and hearing problems. Encephalitis is inflammation of the brain caused by a viral infection or autoimmune response in the body. A common cause of encephalitis is a tick bite which infects a person causing swelling in the brain.
Dr. Tim Kenny on Patient.info says that encephalitis can also be caused by the herpes simplex virus, chickenpox, virus, and the flu. The common encephalitis symptoms are headaches, fever, muscle aches, and fatigue. If left untreated, you may develop severe head pains.12
With the proper treatment, most people recover from encephalitis with no problems. However, encephalitis can result in brain damage if you don’t get prompt treatment. If you notice any of the above symptoms, you should seek prompt medical advice.
One of the less well-known signs of a stroke is a severe headache. A stroke occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off and can leave a person paralyzed or with brain damage. To help recognize the first signs of stroke, doctors use the acronym F.A.S.T. Face drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulty, and Time to act fast.
The Stroke Association says that with the typical symptoms of stroke, a person can experience confusion, vision problems, loss of balance, and severe headaches.13
The Journal of Headache and Pain reported on one case of a woman who experienced stabbing headaches prior to suffering a stroke.14
There are many practical ways that you can lower your risk of stroke. Some of the best ways are to be physically active, control your weight, eat healthily, and take any medication that you have been prescribed.
Pain In Upper Right Arm
A sudden, severe sharp pain in your head could be the first sign of a brain aneurysm. A brain aneurysm can quickly become a life-threatening condition and needs prompt medical attention. This is because the sharp pain in the head is caused by a leaking or ruptured blood vessel around the lining of the brain.
Doctors from the Mayo Clinic say that along with a severe headache, a brain aneurysm will cause a stiff neck, nausea, drooping eyelid, confusion, and loss of consciousness. If you experience any of those symptoms along with severe shooting head pain, you should call your doctor immediately.15
A brain tumor can cause pressure on the nerves and blood vessels inside your skull. Brain tumors cause headaches and seizures and can sometimes result in severe headaches, especially in the morning. These head pains could be made worse by coughing, sneezing, or exercising. It is important to note that Cancer Research UK says that if a severe headache is your only symptom, it is very unlikely that you have a brain tumor.16
Sharp Pain in Head – When to See a Doctor
Most headaches, even sharp pains in your head, aren’t a symptom of a serious medical condition. Usually, the sharp, stabbing pains are caused by a trigger or some event that affects the blood vessels and nerves in your head.
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke says that you should see a doctor for severe headaches if they are accompanied by any of the following conditions:1
- A stiff neck that accompanies a sudden, severe headache.
- You have nausea, vomiting, or a fever and severe head pains that aren’t related to another illness.
- You have stabbing head pains after a head injury.
- You experience seizures, shortness of breath, loss of sensations or weakness in any part of your body.
- You have a drooping eye or eyelid with a severe headache.
- You are over the age of 50 and start getting severe, stabbing pains in your head.
Read these related articles:
- NINDS. Headache. Hope through research.
- NHS. Migraine.
- Eur J Neurol. 2005 Sep;12(9):715-8.
- WebMD. Ice pick headaches.
- MayoClinic. Ice cream headaches.
- WebMD. Cluster headaches.
- ClevelandClinic. Tension headaches.
- MedicineNet. Occipital neuralgia.
- PLoS ONE 5(12): e15963.
- WebMD. Facial pain and trigeminal neuralgia.
- NHS. Trigeminal neuralgia.
- Patient. Encephalitis.
- StrokeAssociation. More stroke warning signs and symptoms.
- J Headache Pain. 2011 Jun; 12(3): 373–375.
- CancerResearchUK. Brain tumour.
- MayoClinic. Brain aneurysm.
Pain in the arm is not immediately a cause for concern for most of us. We all too often chalk it down to strain after a busy day using our arms or following a strenuous workout in the gym, particularly with strength training exercises. When it occurs in the morning after a night of sleep then we may attribute it to sleeping in an awkward position resulting in pressure on one arm.
However, there are times when upper arm pain may have little to do with the arm itself and rather emanate from a distant organ like the heart. Upper arm pain in these instances could be the warning sign of a potentially deadly condition such as a heart attack. In some cases, upper arm pain may be the only pain-related symptom and the typical chest pain associated with a heart attack is atypical or even absent.
Location of the Upper Arm
The upper arm is that area of the upper limb that lies between the shoulder and elbow. It is often just referred to as the arm while the forearm refers to the lower arm. The two upper arm muscles that most people are aware of is the biceps and triceps.
Naturally we tend to assume that pain in the upper arm, particularly if its muscular in nature or worse with movement, must be arising from the biceps or triceps. 9 line slots machines games free. All too often we refer to this upper arm pain as biceps pain or triceps pain but this can be misleading. There are several other muscles in the upper arm and sometimes pain here has nothing to do with the biceps, triceps or any other muscles in this area.
It is important to remember that the upper arm is composed of bones, muscles, tendons, blood vessels, nerves, connective tissue and skin. Furthermore most of these structures do not start and end in the upper arm. Some muscles and tendons may start as high up as the shoulder and end in the upper arm, while some muscles and tendons that start in the upper arm then end in the forearm. Arteries and veins in the upper arm are continuous with the vessels of the shoulder, axilla and forearm. The same applies to lymphatic vessels and nerves.
Causes of Upper Arm Pain
The different causes of upper arm pain are discussed in more detail depending on the nature and area from where the pain may emanate. It is often similar to forearm pain. Pain alone is difficult to identify without considering other symptoms. Redness, swelling, heat, arm weakness or paralysis, numbness and tingling are some of the other symptoms that may accompany upper arm pain. When there are symptoms like dizziness, shortness of breath and signs of shock then the upper pain should be considered a medical emergency.
It is important to first exclude common causes of arm pain like an injury to the upper arm or strenuous activity that may have caused muscle strain. People who suddenly start exercising particularly if they do weight-bearing exercises without being appropriately conditioned may initially experience upper arm pain that is severe and does not always seem to be muscular. However, upper arm pain that is persistent or worsening and is accompanied by the symptoms mentioned above requires immediate medical attention.
Trauma is one of the more common causes of upper pain. It may arise with mechanical or chemical trauma. The injury may be restricted to the more superficial layers like the skin and subcutaneous tissue or extend deeper to the muscles and bones. A fractured bone, muscle tears, tendon rupture, joint dislocation, contusion, lacerations and burns are some of the injuries that may occur with trauma.
It may occurs as a result of falls, sporting injuries, burns, motor vehicle collisions, industrial accidents, assaults and strenuous activity. Trauma may also be responsible for the some of the conditions discussed below that can also contribute to upper arm pain.
Muscle and Tendon
A number of muscle and tendon problems may cause forearm pain. Overuse of the muscles leading to muscular strain is among the more common, and often less serious of causes. Sometimes the muscles go into spasm which is known as muscle cramps. The tendons may also be strained although it does not go into spasm.
Tendonitis refers to inflammation of the muscles tendons. Severe conditions like muscle tears and tendon rupture have been mentioned above as it may arise with injury. Rotator cuff muscles are more likely to cause shoulder pain bu this can radiate to the upper arm and may sometimes be described as upper arm pain.
Jabbing Pain In Upper Arm
Read more on torn rotator cuff muscles.
Bone and Joint
There are a number of bone and joint disorders that may cause upper arm pain. Bone-related conditions may present with a deep pain in the upper arm. This includes a fracture, osteoporosis (brittle bones), osteomalacia (soft bones) and osteomyelitis (bone infection).
Even minor trauma can cause a fracture in a person with osteoporosis. Joint disorders causing upper arm pain may involve the shoulder joint or elbow joint. Apart from dislocation, other joint conditions may include osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, post-traumatic arthritis and septic arthritis. A frozen shoulder may also sometimes be perceived as upper arm pain.
A number of nerves run down the arm, originating from the brachial plexus which is a network of nerves that arises from the vertebral levels of C5 to T1. Nerve problems that may cause upper arm pain may therefore arise at the vertebrae, brachial plexus or anywhere along the course of the nerve.
The cause of the nerve problem may (peripheral neuropathy) be due to compression (pinched nerve), autoimmune disorders, diabetes, trauma to the nerve, infection or sometimes with the use of certain drugs. Cubital tunnel syndrome may also contribute to upper arm pain although the pain is more pronounced in the forearm. In this condition, the ulnar nerve is compressed at the level of the elbow.
Sharp Pain In Arm Muscle
Circulatory disturbances can also cause upper arm pain particularly when the blood supply is restricted. In peripheral artery disease (PAD) the artery is gradually narrowed due to the build up of fatty plaques (atherosclerosis). Eventually the artery can be fully blocked and this causes limb ischemia.
Even without any pre-existing narrowing, a blood clot in the arm can block an artery or vein. The interruption in blood supply may prevent oxygen from reaching the tissues of the arm. This causes pain as a result of ischemia. Vasculitis is where a blood vessel becomes inflamed leading to thickening of the vessel wall and narrowing. It may occur with infections, cancers and autoimmune diseases.
- Anxiety disorders
- Polymyalgia rheumatica
- Benign (non-cancerous) and malignant (cancerous) tumors
- Myocardial infarction (heart attack)
- Upper arm fractures. Merck
- Neck and arm pain. University of Virginia School of Medicine
Left Arm Sharp Pains
Last updated on September 9, 2018.