Occipital Neuralgia Explained

Most people are familiar with common headaches that respond to over the counter medications and typically go away after a few hours. However, there are more severe types of headaches that can affect people much more intensely. Occipital neuralgia is a condition that causes a kind of headache that occurs at the base of your skull. These headaches can be excruciating and negatively impact daily functioning. 

At Spinal Diagnostics in Tualatin and Newberg, Oregon, Dr. Jason Anderson is a highly experienced pain medicine specialist. He provides the latest in diagnostic services and effective treatments for a wide variety of pain-causing conditions. Dr Anderson has successfully treated many patients who are suffering from occipital neuralgia, relieving their symptoms and pain.

What is occipital neuralgia?

The nerves that control most of the feeling in the back of your head are called the occipital nerves. There is one occipital nerve on each side of your head, and they travel up to the top of your head. When one or more of these nerves is irritated, pinched, or compressed, intense pain and uncomfortable symptoms result.

Actual isolated occipital neuralgia is a rare condition, but the irritation of the occipital nerves can play a part in the pain of other types of headaches, including migraines.

What are the symptoms of occipital neuralgia?

The symptoms of occipital neuralgia can vary from person to person but most often include some or all of the following:

  • Intense jabbing pain in the back of head and neck
  • Pain behind the eyes
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Extremely tender scalp
  • Pain with neck movement

Sometimes certain activities trigger the beginning of an occipital neuralgia episode, including resting your head on a pillow.

What are the causes of occipital neuralgia?

There are several conditions that can cause occipital neuralgia, including: 

  • Overly tight muscles in the neck
  • Pinched nerve root
  • Arthritis
  • Injury to skull or scalp
  • Spinal stenosis
  • Whiplash

Typically occipital neuralgia is diagnosed by a physical examination in which your doctor looks for tenderness along the occipital nerve. If your case is not typical, he may also order diagnostic tests such as an MRI to take a closer look.

Treatments for occipital neuralgia

Your doctor takes into consideration the cause of your occipital neuralgia when developing a treatment plan for you. Some of the treatment options he may consider are:

  • Warm compresses
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Occipital nerve blocks
  • Anti-epileptic medications
  • Physical therapy
  • Occipital nerve stimulation
  • Pulsed radiofrequency therapy

Dr. Heros or Dr. Anderson works closely with you to try different treatments to find the best options that relieve your pain and bothersome symptoms, and allow you to get back to living your life again. 

Occipital neuralgia is a rare but very debilitating condition that causes intense pain in the back of your skull. To learn more about this condition and treatment options, call our office to set up an appointment or use our online booking system.

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