Do you experience chronic headaches and migraines and feel like you’ve tried every tip, trick, and trend possible? If so, then you may want to speak with your doctor about an occipital nerve block.

An occipital nerve block is a medical procedure where a doctor injects a combination of anesthetic and steroid anti-inflammatory medication into the occipital nerve. The occipital nerves are located in the back of the head between the bones of the spine and the upper neck.

This procedure is known to alleviate different types of headaches. If you are searching for pain relief, continue reading to learn more about the occipital nerve block procedure.

What Does the Occipital Nerve Block Treat?

There are three different types of head pain that this nerve block is known to treat:

Occipital Neuralgia

Pain that is caused by the irritation of the occipital nerves that branch off from the spine is called occipital neuralgia. The lesser occipital nerve and the greater occipital nerve can become irritated. Both of these nerves will be blocked during the nerve block procedure.

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If a headache forms at the base of the skull and goes up one side of the neck to the forehead, temple, and eye it is usually due to occipital neuralgia. Some people describe the pain as migraine-like because symptoms can include scalp tenderness and sensitivity to light and sound.

Migraine Headaches

Migraines are the sixth most disabling disease in the world. It is a headache that can cause severe throbbing on one side of the head and is accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound. These headaches can last hours to days and directly impact daily activities.

An occipital nerve block is able to block the neurotransmitters that send pain signals to the brain. When the neurotransmitters are blocked, we do not feel the pain associated with that area which can allow migraine sufferers relief for an extended period of time.

Cluster Headaches

Cluster headaches tend to be one of the most painful types of headaches because they strike quickly and, usually, without warning. Pain is typically behind (or around) one eye but may radiate to other areas of the face, head, and neck.

These types of headaches can last weeks to months sometimes they are seasonal or based on the weather while other times they are episodic. The occipital nerve block has been known to give patients with cluster headaches relief.

Occipital Nerve Block Procedure

The procedure can vary based on the office setting, however, it typically only takes ten to fifteen minutes to complete. The patient will remain awake and in an upright position during the procedure.

The doctor will clean the predicted injection site area and will numb the area with a local anesthetic. They will then use a small needle to insert medication near the occipital nerve at the base of the skull. The injection is a combination of steroids, pain medication, and anti-inflammatory medication.

The local anesthetic takes approximately four hours to wear off. Once this has worn off, you may feel your usual headache pain return until the effects of the steroid take place. If this first procedure does not relieve the patient’s symptoms in one to two weeks, then it may be necessary to repeat the procedure with a second injection.

If there is no relief of symptoms then it may be a sign that the occipital nerves are not the cause of pain and additional tests should be completed to find the correct diagnosis.

Side Effects of Occipital Nerve Block

All medical procedures have some form of risk and the occipital nerve block is no different. The most common side effect is pain and irritation at the injection site. Other side effects include infection, dizziness, numbness, and allergic reaction to the injected medication.

Be sure to tell your doctor if you are diabetic because the injection contains steroids which are known to raise blood sugar. Also, tell your doctor of any allergies you may have to reduce the chance of having an allergic reaction.

How Long Will the Block Last?

Over 82% of patients who receive an occipital nerve block report having significant pain relief. Pain relief can begin mere hours post-injection or take up to two weeks for the steroid to begin working.

Most patients report that pain relief lasts three to six months with some reporting much longer periods of relief. The occipital nerve block can be given up to four times a year with patients who receive multiple treatments reporting the most relief.

Headache Management with Arizona Pain and Spine Institute

At the Arizona Pain and Spine Institute we are excited to offer cutting-edge treatments. One treatment is the use of amniotic fluid-derived regenerative medicine stem cells. These stem cells restore damaged soft tissues and provide an additional anti-inflammatory effect.

If you are experiencing chronic pain, our team of highly skilled professionals may be able to help. We are committed to improving our patient’s quality of life and to helping them live pain-free. Contact us today to schedule an appointment and begin the journey of living pain-free!