Occipital neuralgia is a type of chronic headache. It appears when the pain originates from the back of the head and travels through the occipital nerves. Here in this blog, we will cover its causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and the best treatment.
- It is a rare chronic disorder. A person feels pain in the upper neck and back of the head.
- Aching, burning, and throbbing pain are some of the most common signs of having this disease.
- Conditions causing it include cervical disc disease, diabetes, inflammation, and infection.
- Occipital nerve block, MRI, and CT Scans are used for the diagnosis procedure.
- Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications help to ease pain symptoms.
- In severe cases, doctors might recommend you to undergo surgical procedures. It may include occipital Nerve Stimulation.
What Is Occipital Neuralgia
Every year, approximately three out of every 100,000 people are affected by occipital neuralgia. It is a chronic condition that occurs due to irritation, inflammation, or injury to the occipital nerves. The occipital nerves connect your upper spinal cord to your scalp.
It is a type of headache in which a person feels sudden bursts of pain. Patients might feel pain in the upper neck, back of the head, or behind the ears.
and may run in families.
Symptoms of Occipital Neuralgia
The most common signs include sudden and severe pain. Most often, people mistake it for migraines. Patients described the pain as sharp, intense, piercing, and stabbing. These painful episodes may last only a few minutes or seconds. But tenderness around the nerves may persist afterward. Other symptoms include:
- Aching, burning, and throbbing pain that usually begins at the base of the head and goes to the scalp
- Pain behind the eye
- Sensitivity to light
- Pain either on one or both sides of the head
- Tender scalp
- Pain while moving your neck
Causes of Occipital Neuralgia
Damage to the pinched nerves in the root of the neck causes it. In some cases, it occurs due to a head or neck injury.
Another common cause is chronic neck tension. Some other medical conditions that may trigger the condition include:
- Tumors in the neck affecting the C2 and C3 nerve roots
- Trauma to the back of the head
- Degenerative cervical spine changes
- Cervical disc disease
- Blood vessel inflammation
When to Seek Medical Care
Occipital neuralgia is like migraines and other headache disorders. That’s why it isn’t easy to diagnose. Hence, it is critical to get medical help if you are experiencing unusual and acute pain in your neck or scalp. These pains are usually not followed by nausea or light sensitivity. You need to talk to your health care physician about the problem immediately. They may refer you to a professional specialist.
There is no single test that can diagnose occipital neuralgia. Your doctor might perform a physical and neurological examination to look for tenderness. It happens in response to pressure along your occipital nerve. Sometimes, the doctor may recommend you to undergo:
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) for revealing any impingement
- Computed tomography scan (CT or CAT scan)
- Some doctors may use occipital nerve blocks to confirm their diagnosis.
To get the correct treatment, you need to have the proper diagnosis. If you have the condition and use migraine medication, you might not get any relief.
The following options may aid in its treatment and discomfort:
- Apply warm compresses
- Massage therapy
- Take over-the-counter (OTC) anti-inflammatory medications
- Physical therapy
- Oral medication (anti-inflammatory medication, muscle relaxants, anticonvulsant medications)
- Percutaneous nerve blocks
- Botulinum toxin (Botox) injections
The treatment options mentioned above can help to reduce pain symptoms. They help to relax and release the muscles by putting pressure on the occipital nerves.
Many people suffering from occipital neuralgia also have migraines. In some cases, treating migraines can help with occipital head discomfort sensations.
1. Occipital Nerve Stimulation:
In this treatment, doctors implant electrodes beneath the skin near the occipital nerves. This method is like spinal cord stimulation. Being a minimally invasive procedure, it does not affect nearby nerves or structures.
2. Spinal Cord Stimulation:
In this treatment, stimulating electrodes are implanted between the spinal cord and the vertebrae. Electrical impulses are sent to the brain to block pain messages from the spinal cord.
3. C2,3 Ganglionectomy:
This treatment includes the disruption of the second and third cervical-sensory-dorsal-root ganglion. Several studies suggest that about 95% of patients reported immediate relief.
Occipital neuralgia is not a life-threatening disease. Most people find that resting and taking medicine helps them to feel better.
But, if your pain persists, get medical help immediately.