Could Occipital Neuralgia be the cause of your chronic headaches?

Mature woman crying, side view, close-up

Do you suffer from chronic headaches? Does it feel like a shooting pain behind your eyes? Does your entire scalp feel sore or tender? It could be more than just a headache; You may suffer from occipital neuralgia or occipital neuritis.

Unfortunately, occipital neuralgia can go undiagnosed for years because symptoms mimic common headaches or migraines. Occipital neuralgia, however, is a distinct neurological disorder that requires specific treatment.

What exactly is occipital neuralgia?

The International Headache Society (IHS) defines occipital neuralgia (also known as C2 neuralgia) as “a paroxysmal shooting or stabbing pain in the dermatomes of the greater occipital and the lesser occipital nerve”.

Occipital neuralgia occurs when one or both occipital nerves (nerves emerging from the spine in the upper neck & proceeding to the back of the head) become irritated or damaged. The pain may occur without much warning and could start after a surgery or scalp injury, or because of a pinched nerve root or occipital nerve block.

What Causes Occipital Headaches?

Occipital neuralgia causes may include:

  • Injury or whiplash after car accident
  • Overly tight neck muscles
  • Compressed nerves in the neck, due to osteoarthritis or other conditions
  • Tumors
  • Gout
  • Diabetes
  • Vasculitis, or blood vessel inflammation
  • Overuse injuries caused by keeping the head in a down or forward position

Occipital neuralgia may occur without much warning and could start after a surgery or scalp injury, or as a result of a pinched nerve root.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of occipital neuralgia and occipital neuritis include:

  • Pain described as ‘shocks’, or electric
  • Sharp pain behind the eye
  • Sharp, burning, and throbbing pain that starts at the base of the head
  • Pain on one or both sides of the head
  • Sharp pain behind the eye
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Extreme tenderness to the head and scalp

Sometimes, these symptoms are referred to as occipital neuritis, meaning some inflammatory changes have affected the occipital nerves.

How can I treat occipital neuralgia?

Although all patients and treatment plans are unique, chronic migraines or occipital neuralgia are commonly treated with Occipital Nerve Blocks, an injection of local anesthetic and steroid around the occipital nerve used to decrease inflammation and to relieve your chronic migraines.

Other methods of treating occipital neuralgia include:

  • Physical therapy and strengthening exercises
  • Anti-inflammatory medications
  • Acupuncture
  • Cranial osteopathy and other forms of massage

The above information is for general education purposes only. Please ask your doctor specific questions during your visit.

If your doctor has diagnosed occipital neuralgia, the pain management specialists at Oklahoma Pain Management can provide minimally invasive treatment options, so you can take control of your chronic headaches, and go back to living life to the fullest.Schedule your appointment today


Schedule your appointment today.