What is occipital neuralgia?
Occipital neuralgia is a rare type of chronic headache disorder. In this condition, the nerves that run from the scalp down through the top of the spinal cord, called the occipital nerves, are inflamed or injured, manifesting in pain in the back of the head or at the base of the skull.
What causes occipital neuralgia?
Occipital neuralgia is prompted by pressure or irritation to the occipital nerves from an injury, tight muscles, or inflammation. Sometimes, doctors cannot find an exact trigger for occipital neuralgia, but common triggers include:
- Trauma to the back of the head
- Neck tension or tumors in the neck
- Cervical disc disease
- Blood vessel inflammation
What are the symptoms of occipital neuralgia?
The characteristic symptom of occipital neuralgia is an intense pain that feels like a sharp electric shock in the back of the head and neck. Other symptoms of the disease include:
- Aching, burning, and throbbing pain that starts at the back of the head
- Pain on one or both sides of the head
- Pain behind the eye
- Sensitivity to light
- Tender scalp
- Pain during neck movements
The symptoms of occipital neuralgia are often confused with those of a migraine or other types of headaches, but the treatments for the conditions are very different.
How is occipital neuralgia diagnosed?
Occipital neuralgia is diagnosed after a thorough clinical evaluation and a review of medical and family history. A doctor may try to reproduce the pain caused by occipital neuralgia by pressing around the back of the patient’s head, or administer a shot to numb the occipital nerves to see if relief is achieved.
What are the available treatments for occipital neuralgia?
The first step in occipital neuralgia treatment is to try and relieve any pain, using heat applied to the neck, massage, or over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs. In more serious cases, prescription muscle relaxants, anti-seizure medications, antidepressants, and nerve blocks and steroid shots may be used. If pain still does not subside, microvascular decompression surgery or occipital nerve stimulation may be used.