Should You Get an Occipital Nerve Block? | Revere Health

Occipital neuralgia is a condition with which sufferers experience a chronic ache at the base of the skull resulting in shooting pain on the scalp, and it’s just one of several chronic pain conditions related to headaches. Estimates indicate that up to 5 percent of the population worldwide suffers from some kind of chronic headache, including cluster headaches and migraines, along with occipital neuralgia.

In many of these cases, patients can use a procedure called an occipital nerve block as treatment. This is a minimally invasive treatment that can help patients with varying levels of chronic pain.

Nerve Block Procedure

These kinds of chronic pain are caused by signals sent to the brain that are perceived as headache pain, and the purpose of an occipital nerve block is to inhibit or block a disproportionate amount of these signals. It’s a simple, safe procedure done with very little intrusion. Steps of the process include:

  • If needed, a local anesthetic will be applied to the skin above the targeted nerve set.
  • A fine needle is inserted and placed at the appropriate location near the nerve.
  • Medications, usually steroids, are injected. These medications begin to block the transmission of painful signals to the brain.
  • In successful cases, you may feel numbness on the side of your head that was injected. In some cases, your doctor will ask you to remain in the office for a brief period to assess the success of the treatment.

Results and Side Effects

Some people may feel numbness and the results of the treatment right away, but others may take a day or longer in some cases. There are a few limited side effects that are possible after an occipital nerve block, including:

  • Tenderness or discomfort at injection site
  • Slight bleeding or infection at injection site
  • Hematoma
  • Adverse reaction to steroids: can include swelling, skin discoloration and emotional disturbances
  • Adverse reaction to anesthetics: including headaches, nausea, chest discomfort and sensory abnormalities
  • Neurological complications: In very rare cases, complications like facial palsy can occur, but these are usually temporary

Some patients will require multiple injections in quick succession for optimal effects. In most cases, an occipital nerve block should be effective against pain for a month or more.

What Can It Help With?

Occipital nerve blocks can be an effective treatment for people with moderate to severe chronic pain, and who have tried alternative treatment methods without success. They’ve had an effect on various types of headache, including throbbing pain, sharp pain, reverberating pain and burning pain—each of which are conditions linked to pain that originates in the occipital nerve.

Examples of conditions that may fall under this type of chronic pain include:

  • Chronic and episodic migraines
  • Chronic and episodic cluster headaches
  • Tension-type headaches
  • Occipital neuralgia

Occipital nerve blocks can also be effective for pain associated with head trauma, and has been useful in helping diagnose headache types.

If you’re dealing with chronic headache pain and have tried other treatment methods without success, your doctor may suggest occipital nerve blocks if they are right for you depending on your specific diagnosis.

Our neurologists are trained specialists and work with your primary care physicians to develop a treatment plan personalized for you. We have access to the latest in imaging technology and our specialists are up to date on the most recent treatment options.

Sources:

“Occipital Nerve Block.” PainDoctor.com. https://paindoctor.com/treatments/occipital-nerve-block/

“What is Occipital Neuralgia?” PainDoctor.com. https://paindoctor.com/conditions/occipital-neuralgia/

“Nerve Blocks.” Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/nerve-blocks

This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.

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