Commonwealth Spine & Pain Specialists focuses this month on occipital neuralgia. Occipital neuralgia is a form of chronic headache which causes neck pain, as well as pain at the back of your head which may radiate to the top of your head.
Head trauma, neck tension, inflammation and, rarely, tumor may contribute to the condition. Pain is caused when either the C2 or C3 nerve root along the upper spine gets pinched. Occipital neuralgia pain is often described as throbbing, aching or burning. It can also feel sharp or stabbing, like an electric shock.
The pain associated with occipital neuralgia does not always strike in the same location (though “occipital region” means “back of head”) and may attack multiple parts of the head. Diagnosis entails a doctor’s reviewing your medical records, asking about previous injuries and physically examining your head and neck. He or she may exert pressure on your neck to try to reproduce your symptoms.
Symptoms of Occipital Neuralgia
The symptoms associated with occipital neuralgia are pain-related and invisible. Sometimes the condition may coexist with migraine headaches and mimic them, especially when there is sensitivity to light and scalp tenderness. Areas potentially affected in occipital neuralgia cases include:
- Base of the head and the scalp
- One side of the head
- Behind the eye
- Neck, especially when moved
Treatment for Occipital Neuralgia
The nature of your treatment will differ depending on the intensity and frequency of your occipital neuralgia pain. Home treatments to try include:
- Application of heat to the neck
- Relaxation and rest
- Massage for tight neck muscles
- Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication
If your pain persists, you should consult a doctor. A specialist may prescribe a muscle relaxant, anticonvulsant or antidepressant in an effort to calm the overactive occipital nerves involved.
Another option is administration of an occipital nerve block. A nerve block is an injection of a steroid with a local anesthetic. An occipital nerve block injected into the nerves in the back of the head blocks pain signals from the head and neck to the brain. If you respond well to a nerve block’s temporary deadening of the occipital nerves’ signals, you may also benefit from a more permanent procedure. In rare cases, surgery may be indicated.
If you believe you are suffering from occipital neuralgia, do not hesitate to call upon Richmond, Virginia’s interventional pain experts for diagnosis and treatment. Please contact Commonwealth Spine & Pain Specialists at (804) 288-7246 or schedule online. Our board-certified physicians are experienced at assessing and treating persistent pain disorders which impinge upon patients’ quality of life. Our team looks forward to relieving your pain.