Occipital Neuralgia vs. Migraine Pain

You're experiencing throbbing pain in your head, perhaps just on one side, or your head is tender to the touch. These attributes help us distinguish between the different types of headaches — and there are 150 types of headaches to sort through!

The team here at Spinal Diagnostics has considerable experience helping our patients to navigate head pain better. In the scenario we used in the introduction, we mentioned a few characteristics often shared by two types of head pain — migraines and occipital neuralgia.

Here's a closer look at each type of headache and their connection.

Occipital neuralgia rarely stands alone

A pair of nerve roots exit the top of your spine to create your greater occipital nerves. These nerves provide most of the sensation in the back of your head and neck, extending your scalp to your forehead. The occipital nerves do not cover your ears or face, which are serviced by different nerves.

With occipital neuralgia, the nerve is compressed, which leads to pain around the back of your head that's often described as shooting or throbbing. This pain can include tenderness around the back of your head and flare when you move your neck. The pain can be only on one side or affect both, depending upon where the occipital nerves are compromised. Lastly, you may experience shooting pain that feels behind your eye.

As a standalone condition, occipital neuralgia is rare, and the remedy for the problem involves freeing up the occipital nerve compression or quieting the overactive nerve.

Occasionally, occipital neuralgia is part of a larger headache problem that often includes migraines.

Migraines that affect the occipital nerves

Migraines affect about 10% of the world's population, but despite their prevalence, we still don't understand much about the condition. Migraines are neurological and can lead to throbbing head pain, usually on one side of your head. They can also come with a host of other symptoms, including:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Aura (visual disturbances)
  • Fatigue
  • Light and sound sensitivity
  • Confusion
  • A period of fogginess after the head pain

Migraines can last for long periods, even days, and they're usually triggered by something, such as certain foods or weather. The one overriding fact about migraines is that they affect people in very different ways, with different symptoms, triggers, and durations.

Chronic migraines can lead to inflammation in your occipital nerves. When this happens, you add the occipital neuralgia symptoms to those you typically experience with migraines.

Finding relief from your head pain

Given the similarity in symptoms and potential for crossover, it's essential to see us for a comprehensive assessment of your head pain. If we find that you have migraines, occipital neuralgia, or both, we work quickly to help you find relief. 

The treatments for occipital neuralgia and migraines are different, so we want to ensure we properly identify and address the source of your head pain. To get started, please contact one of our locations in Tualatin and Newberg, Oregon, to schedule an appointment.

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