What Triggers Occipital Neuralgia?

Reviewed on 6/25/2021

Occipital neuralgia is a nerve pain caused when the occipital nerves that run through the scalp are irritated, injured, or inflamed, and can cause severe headaches. Pain can be triggered by light touch or movements such as brushing hair, washing hair, wearing a hat, laying down on a pillow, or turning the head to one side.
Occipital neuralgia is a nerve pain caused when the occipital nerves that run through the scalp are irritated, injured, or inflamed, and can cause severe headaches. Pain can be triggered by light touch or movements such as brushing hair, washing hair, wearing a hat, laying down on a pillow, or turning the head to one side.

Occipital neuralgia is a type of nerve pain in which the nerves that run through the scalp, the occipital nerves, are irritated, injured, or inflamed. 

Occipital neuralgia frequently causes: persistent intense headaches characterized by:

  • Severe piercing, throbbing, aching, burning, shock-like, or shooting pain
  • Pain is often described as migraine-like and symptoms may be similar to those of migraines and cluster headaches
  • Pain usually starts in the upper neck and moves to the back of the head, the scalp on one or both sides of the head, or behind the ears
  • Pain may also occur behind the eye of the affected side of the head

Pain can be triggered by light touch or movements such as brushing hair, washing hair, wearing a hat, laying down on a pillow, or turning the head to one side. 

Primary occipital neuralgia may be caused or triggered by: 

  • Pinched nerves in the neck
  • Chronic muscle tightness in the neck
  • Head or neck injury that results in trauma to the greater and/or lesser occipital nerves
  • Osteoarthritis of the upper cervical spine
  • Cervical disc disease
  • Tumors affecting the C2 and C3 nerve roots
  • Blood vessel inflammation
  • Diabetes
  • Gout
  • Infection
  • Secondary occipital neuralgia is associated with an underlying disease.

How Is Occipital Neuralgia Treated?

Treatment for occipital neuralgia is meant to relieve pain, but is not a cure. Treatments for occipital neuralgia include

Non-surgical treatments:

  • Medications
  • Anti-inflammatory medications
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Anticonvulsants
  • Percutaneous nerve blocks
  • Injections are used both to diagnose and treat occipital neuralgia
  • Botulinum toxin (Botox) injections may be used to decrease nerve inflammation 
  • Heating pads
  • Physical therapy or massage therapy

Surgical treatments:

  • Occipital nerve stimulation
  • Spinal cord stimulation
  • C 2-3 Ganglionectomy

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Reviewed on 6/25/2021
References
https://www.aans.org/en/Patients/Neurosurgical-Conditions-and-Treatments/Occipital-Neuralgia

https://nwapain.com/occipital-neuralgia/