Occipital Headaches (Neuralgia)

What is Occipital Neuralgia?

The occipital nerve runs up the back of your head. The compression of this nerve by overly tight neck muscles is a common cause of headaches, especially after car accident. This condition is called occipital neuralgia or occipital nerve pain.

The pain from occipital nerves is usually experienced at the back of the head and spreads like an electrical current alongside the head and forehead. Sometimes the skin over the skull is sensitive to touch when you comb your hair.

Why is an occipital compartment injection helpful?

Traditionally, doctors treat this condition by injection medicine around this nerve, at the back of your head. Unfortunately, these injections usually work for only a short period of time.

A new procedure, called an occipital compartment injection, was recently developed. The purpose of this injection is to freeze the occipital nerve before it is impinged in the neck muscles. To our knowledge, we are the only Pain Clinic in Maritimes to offer such an injection.

(If the injection provides pain relief, then it confirms that the occipital nerve is the cause of your headaches and provides treatment at the same time. If the injection does not provide pain relief, then the occipital nerve is not the source of your headaches.

An occipital compartment injection cannot be done in a doctor’s office because it requires fluoroscopic monitoring, which ensures safe and exact medication to the nerve.

What will happen to me during the procedure?

After the physician has administered an intravenous pain reliever, you will lie on your stomach. The skin over your neck will be well cleaned. Next, the physician will use fluoroscopic guidance to direct a very small needle towards the occipital nerve.

The physician will inject dye to ensure that the needle is in correct position. Next, the physician will place some freezing and anti-inflammatory cortisone around the nerve.

What will happen to me after the procedure?

You will rest in the recovery area for 30 minutes before going home. Your heart rate and blood pressure will be monitored. You will be given instructions regarding your pain, activity, driving, etc.

The doctor will monitor your pain response. If the pain goes away, the occipital nerve is the source of your pain. Usually such injections provide at least nine months of attack-free periods. If the pain is not relieved, the occipital nerve is likely not the source of your headaches, in which case your doctor will work with you to look for other causes of your headaches.

To learn more about the above, click here to watch the video.