What Most Don't Realize About Occipital Neuralgia

misc image

What Most Don't Realize About Occipital Neuralgia

Occipital nerves run from the top end of the spinal cord through your scalp. When these nerves become damaged or inflamed, severe headaches can form, and symptoms may be constant or intermittent. Occipital neuralgia is sometimes hard to diagnose.

There are over 150 distinct types of headache known to medical science. These can be primary, where the headache is the condition, or secondary, when it occurs because of another disorder. 

Injury or inflammation in the greater occipital nerves can result in occipital neuralgia, a headache condition felt along one or both of these nerves. Branching off the spinal column in the upper neck, the greater occipital nerves provide sensations for the sides and back of your head and scalp. 

Occipital neuralgia can create severe headache pain that often resembles migraine or cluster headaches. There’s no single test to diagnose occipital neuralgia, though a nerve block can confirm the occipital nerve as the origin of your pain. 

Visiting Metro Anesthesia & Pain Management is a good way to speed the diagnostic process. We’re headache specialists, trained to quickly identify the source of your headache pain. Visit us whenever headaches interfere with your ability to function and enjoy life. 

Defining neuralgia

Combining the root words “neuro,” which relates to nerves, and “algesia,” which describes sensitivity to pain, neuralgia is the medical term used when pain results from conditions that affect nerves.

Normally, sensory nerves report pain to the brain as a result of an external stimulus. If you’re poked with a pin, for example, you’d feel a corresponding pain. 

Neuralgia usually means that your pain doesn’t have a typical external cause. Instead, pain symptoms result from conditions in the nerve itself. Most often, that’s because of an injury to nerve tissue, which takes the form of compression or irritation.

Sciatica, for example, is a condition that results from compression of the sciatic nerve. 

Occipital neuralgia

Like the sciatic nerves, the greater occipital nerves are a pair, on the left and right sides of your body. A third branch called the lesser occipital nerve can also suffer from neuralgia though it covers a smaller region of the scalp. 

Occipital nerve compression has links with certain medical conditions, though it’s often not possible to discover what causes neuralgia pain. Sometimes, it remains after the original cause of nerve damage heals. 

Conditions that associate with occipital neuralgia include: 

  • Injuries to the head, typically to the back of the head
  • Osteoarthritis of the cervical spine
  • Degenerative disc disease to the cervical spine
  • Inflammation of blood vessels
  • Tension in muscles of the neck
  • Diabetic neuralgia affecting the occipital nerves
  • Gout
  • Infections
  • Tumors in the neck

Any condition that infringes on the normal pathways of the occipital nerves, called stenosis, could result in compression or irritation of nerve tissue. 

Diagnosing and treating occipital neuralgia

Since there’s no definitive test for this condition, your diagnosis usually results from a review of your symptoms and a physical exam that involves palpating the path of the occipital nerve to see if this triggers the pain you’re experiencing. 

An anesthetic injection called a nerve block into the occipital nerve confirms a diagnosis, if it relieves your symptoms, and prepares you for treatment. Something that people might not know about occipital neuralgia is that Botox® injections could be part of the solution. 

Contact the nearest location of Metro Anesthesia & Pain Management, in West Des Moines or East Des Moines, Iowa, to arrange a consultation with one of our experts. There’s an answer to your neuralgia pain. Call or click today to book your appointment.