Are you constantly dealing with headaches? Is the pain in the back of your head, behind your ears, or upper neck? These are not symptoms you should ignore. You may be experiencing the effects of a chronic pain disorder known as occipital neuralgia.
Although this condition is not life-threatening, it can severely impact your quality of life, making it essential to seek treatment. It is not curable; however, there are many options available to you for effective pain relief, management, and prevention.
What is occipital neuralgia?
Occipital neuralgia is a condition that can cause piercing headaches, as well as a throbbing or electric-shock feeling caused by the nerves that run throughout your scalp. The pain can occur on either side of your head or move forward towards your eyes. Some people experience a sensitive scalp and sensitivity to light.
Because this pain can accompany other types of headaches, such as migraines or cluster headaches, diagnosing a patient with occipital neuralgia can be challenging. However, in the example of a migraine, if you are not experiencing other common symptoms, such as nausea, this may be a sign you are suffering from occipital neuralgia.
What causes occipital neuralgia?
Occipital neuralgia is caused when the occipital nerves are sore or injured. These nerves are rooted at the top of your spinal cord and located throughout your scalp. This condition often occurs when the largest nerve, the greater occipital nerve, is aggravated.
The soreness in the nerves can be caused by:
- Compressed blood vessels
- Pinched nerves
- Tight neck muscles
- Cervical spine issues
- Injury or trauma to the head and neck
There are also potential “secondary issues” you may be experiencing that could trigger occipital neuralgia.
Top 10 Occipital Neuralgia Treatment Options
Although occipital neuralgia is not a “curable disease,” effective measures for pain relief and management may be discovered by pinpointing the underlying issue causing inflammation of the nerves. This may allow your condition to dissipate over time.
There are some measures you can take at home to relieve pain. However, your condition may require professional or surgical treatment for more lasting relief. Consider these ten options to treat occipital neuralgia:
1. Stress Relief
Stress could add to the tension and pain you are experiencing. Try relaxation methods at home, such as resting in a peaceful space, applying heat to the affected area, and gently massaging your upper neck muscles.
Establishing an exercise routine can be a great way to experience some relief and start on a path to managing the pain. Try to make it a habit to stretch regularly and work on maintaining good posture.
Be sure to discontinue any exercises or stretches that are causing you pain.
3. Massage Therapy
Massage therapy can be a way to treat neck pain by loosening tight muscles, which will help lessen the strain on your occipital nerves.
4. Physical Therapy
Physical therapy is another way to help with muscle tension by stretching and strengthening the muscles in your neck. To prevent further injury, allow a physical therapist to instruct you on proper neck exercises before attempting any at home.
5. Chiropractic Care
This type of care deals with the spine and is an option if you seek a treatment that does not rely on drugs. Upper cervical chiropractic care involves gently manipulating the spine, is an effective form of pain management, and may even stop chronic occipital neuralgia.
6. Home Remedies: Over-the-Counter and Natural
An OTC drug such as ibuprofen can help reduce inflammation and pain. If you prefer a more natural anti-inflammatory, try turmeric, green tea, or omega-3.
7. Prescription Medication
Your doctor may prescribe prescription medication, such as a muscle relaxant, to help take pressure off your occipital nerves.
Always discuss any potential side effects of medications with your doctor.
8. Occipital Nerve Blocks
A botulinum toxin occipital nerve block (botox injection) can be an effective treatment method. This steroid injection into the affected area causes a temporary “deadening” of the nerve, which should help to relieve pain. If it does, this can also help with diagnosing occipital neuralgia.
9. Radiofrequency Ablation
Radiofrequency ablation is a procedure that can be used to provide relief by interrupting sensory nerves. This treatment option may have more long-term effects of 15 months or more.
10. Surgical Options
Occipital nerve stimulation is an example of an effective surgical procedure for treating pain. Surgery can be the best route to correct issues that trigger your pain if other methods of relief and management do not succeed.
Seeking Treatment for Occipital Neuralgia?
The Arizona Pain and Spine Institute team consists of experienced pain management professionals. Our goal is to help you achieve a greater quality of life by freeing you of chronic pain. Contact us today to discover the best pain management treatment for you!