Occipital neuralgia is a relatively rare cause of severe headaches that can be felt at the base of your skull. The condition is named for the nerve situated near the area of pain — the occipital nerve. This nerve exits your spinal cord between your skull and first cervical vertebrae at the top of your neck then branches into three smaller nerves that spread over the back of your skull.
Pain can be felt throughout the areas where one or more of these nerves travel.
Symptoms of occipital neuralgia include:
- Episodic, brief, severe, and shocklike pain
- Pain that lasts a few seconds to minutes
- Pain sensations that are sharp, stabbing, or piercing
- Severe tenderness that can be felt along the occipital nerve branches
- Pain that can be felt at the back of the head, to the top of the head, or near the ears
Bouts of occipital neuralgia can be triggered by brushing your hair, turning your neck, and resting your head on a pillow.
The exact cause of occipital neuralgia is unknown. Researchers believe that compression or irritation of the branches of the occipital nerve is the main cause of occipital neuralgia. The nerves can be compressed by anatomical structures in the neck, including bone spurs, arthritis, and spinal stenosis, or tight muscles in the neck and scalp.
Other possible causes include trauma, such as whiplash, or compression of the occipital nerves by arteries or tumors in the area.
When the team diagnoses you with occipital neuralgia and rules out other complicating factors — such as tumors — that could be contributing to your pain, they offer a variety of treatments to relieve your pain, including:
- Anti-inflammatory medications
- Muscle relaxants
- Anti-epileptic medications
- Tricyclic antidepressants
- Occipital nerve blocks
- Pulsed radiofrequency
- Occipital nerve stimulation
The team can provide at-home recommendations you can follow to relieve your discomfort as well, like applying warm compresses to the back of your skull, massage therapy, and physical therapy to address any muscular imbalances in your neck that could be contributing to your symptoms.
Find out which treatments for occipital neuralgia are available to you by calling Spinal Diagnostics or requesting an appointment online now.