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Occipital Neuralgia, Causes, Symptoms, Cure and Treatment

Table of Contents

  1. Occipital Neuralgia
  2. Symptoms of Occipital Neuralgia
  3. Causes of Occipital Neuralgia
  4. Diagnosing Occipital Neuralgia
  5. Treatments for Occipital Neuralgia

Occipital Neuralgia

The occipital neuralgia is normally cause by the trauma to the occipital nerve, which is possibly caused by the auto-accident during which the head impacts the headrest. Additionally it may be caused by the spondylosis of your upper cervical spine. It may also rarely be caused by the neuropathies due to tumor or diabetes. During occipital neuralgia the nerve is possibly entrapped beneath the trapezius and the muscles of the occipital bone called semispinalis capitis.


It is usually characterized by the paroxysms of occipital pain, which has resemblance with the migraine. In extreme cases when pain is very severe then blood pressure may also shoot up. The eye pain is also reported with the occipital neuralgia. In some cases the dental pain has also been reported. The severe pain which may be in the trigeminal distribution is reported in human having excessively greater occipital nerve. Due to variant of cervical vertigo some of the patients also feel dizziness.

The occipital nerves are the nerve that run right from the top of spinal cord and to the base of your neck up to the scalp. These nerves may be injured or inflamed.  It is mostly confused with a migraine and other headache types because of the similarity in the symptoms. But occipital neuralgia is a disorder which require in time diagnosis and treatment.

Symptoms of Occipital Neuralgia

It usually causes an intense pain which might be felt like a jobbing, sharp, electric shock in the backside of the neck and head. The prominent symptoms of occipital neuralgia include:


  • Burning, throbbing pain and aching which may start from the base of the head and may transfer in to the scalp
  • Half headed pain or pain that radiates on both side is very common
  • Pain right behind the eye
  • Sensational response towards light due to sensitivity
  • Appearance of tender scalp
  • Pain during neck movement

Causes of Occipital Neuralgia

Occipital neuralgia results from the compression or irritation commonly of your occipital nerves due to some kind of entrapment of the nerves, injury or may be due to inflammation. In most of the cases no cause behind occipital neuralgia is found.

The common medical conditions which are associated with this disorder may include:

  • Trauma that commonly appear on the back of the head
  • Tight neck muscles and neck tension
  • Osteoarthritis may be the possible cause of disorder
  • If you have tumors in the neck then you are probably at the risk
  • If you are affected with cervical disc disease
  • Any kind of infection
  • Gout
  • Diabetes may be the possible cause
  • Inflammation of the blood vessels

Diagnosing Occipital Neuralgia

In case you think that you are affected with occipital neuralgia then immediately consult with your doctor. He may ask about your complete medical history and any kind of injury which may happen due to any physical exam. He will definitely press the back side of your head where he may think that the suppression occurs due to occipital nerves. In most of the cases it is clinical disorder but he may ask for blood tests or MRI scan if your case doesn’t looks like the typical. To relieve the pain he may give you an anesthetic nerve block. If the pain goes away then occipital neuralgia is the possible cause of the pain. For better treatment complete diagnosis is necessary. For example if you are ikely to be affected by the occipital neuralgia and are given medications for migraine then it doesn’t work.

Treatments for Occipital Neuralgia

Treatment definitely depends on the causes of the pain, irritation and inflammation of your occipital nerves. The first thing you have to do is to relieve your pain. To get relieve against pain you can do number of things:

  • Apply gentle heat to your neck
  • Take rest where no one disturb you
  • Gently massage the painful and tight muscles of neck
  • Take the advised anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen (Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve)

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If this doesn’t work the best then you doctor may advise the following medicines to treat the pain due to occipital neuralgia.

  • Always apply the muscle relaxants
  • Use anticonvulsant drugs such as Neurontin (gabapentin) and Teretol (carbamazepine)
  • Use antidepressant medicines
  • You can also use short term steroid injections and nerve blocks. These are not very much effective and take 2-3 injections for many weeks to get relieve against pain.

Surgery is rarely advisable but it can be done if pain increases and is not going away with other treatments. Possible surgery methods may include:

  • Microvascular Decompression: this procedures follows the identification and adjustment of the blood vessels which may contribute in compressing the nerve.
  • Occipital Nerve Stimulation: this procedure follows the use of a neurostimulator to delivery of electrical impulses to your occipital nerves. The function of these electrical impulses is to send messages to the brain related to the pain.

It is not considered under the headings of life threatening diseases. In most of the cases pain can be minimized by taking pain relieving medicines and pills. But if you are not getting the response from these medications and pain remains there then tell your doctor about the condition of your neck and head.

If the condition become worse then you need medical attentions and hospitalization. The alternate is the physiotherapy. You need to consult with proper physiotherapist, he may advice you neck and head therapy which will give you a relief and discomfort goes away. Along with physiotherapy laser treatment can also be done which might open the closed nerves which are causing pain. If all these treatments are not responsive then surgery is the only thing which you can do to get relief against pain.

Don’t be panic if your pain is not going away because this is not contagious and life threatening disease and you live your normal life. But always avoid all those activities which are known to block the nerves and avoid sudden accidents as well. this will minimize the fact of having occipital neuralgia and feel you comfortable.

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