Occipital Neuralgia

Occipital neuralgia is a condition in which the occipital nerves are irritated or damaged. The occipital nerves begin at the top of the spinal cord and run up through the scalp. Pain from occipital neuralgia can be felt from the base of the skull, and often radiates to the back, front, and side of the head, as well as behind the eyes.

Occipital neuralgia is the result of compression or irritation of the occipital nerves. The occipital nerves pass through several muscles, and can become trapped at any point along their distribution. This can lead to spasms, muscle cramps, and pain. Compression sometimes occurs due to purely mechanical reasons, such as injury to the back of the head or tension in the neck. There are many medical conditions that are associated with occipital neuralgia, some of which may contribute to its pathology. Examples include osteoarthritis, tumours in the neck, cervical disk disease, localized infection, gout, diabetes, and inflammation.

The main symptom of occipital neuralgia is a headache at the top of the neck or the base of the skull. This pain can be intense and shock-like, and is often described as aching, burning, or throbbing. It is brief, lasting from seconds to a few minutes, and can be on one side or both sides of the head. Many other symptoms are seen in occipital neuralgia, including pain when moving the neck, a tender scalp, sensitivity to light, and pain or pressure behind the eyes. Because they have many similar symptoms, occipital neuralgia is often confused with a headache or migraine. However, medications for these conditions are not effective treatments for occipital neuralgia. An accurate diagnosis is an important first step towards treatment and pain relief.

To diagnose occipital neuralgia, a doctor will first take a complete medical history and perform a physical examination. Certain tests may also be ordered, including blood tests and an MRI scan. The nerves affected in occipital neuralgia follow a slightly different distribution in each person. This means that the areas affected by the nerves will not be exactly the same for everyone. These differences can make it even more difficult to interpret symptoms and accurately diagnose this condition. Occipital neuralgia is the likely cause if pain can be relieved by an anaesthetic nerve block.

Treatments for occipital neuralgia focus on relieving pain, and may vary depending on what is irritating the occipital nerves. For some people, rest in a quiet room, heat applied to the neck, and massage of the neck muscles may be helpful. Over the counter anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen may also decrease pain. If these treatments are not effective, further measures can be taken. Anticonvulsant drugs, prescription muscle relaxants, antidepressants, physical therapy, local nerve blocks, and steroid injections are also therapeutic options. In severe cases, surgical interventions such as microvascular decompression or occipital nerve stimulation may offer relief.

We offer diagnostic nerve block injections with local anaesthetic and therapeutic nerve block injections with cortisone and/or botulinum toxin injections, chiropractic, physiotherapy, acupuncture, active exercises, medication, psychotherapy, biofeedback, and TENS/MET devices for patients suffering from occipital neuralgia.


“Occipital Neuralgia.” Available on: http://www.webmd.com/migraines-headaches/occipital-neuralgia-symptoms-causes-treatments

“Occipital Neuralgia.” Available on: https://www.healthcentral.com/encyclopedia/occipital-neuralgia


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