Occipital Neuralgia

Occipital neuralgia is a neurological condition in which the occipital nerves—the nerves that run from the top of the spinal cord at the base of the neck up through the scalp—are inflamed or injured. Occipital neuralgia can be confused with a migraine, or other types of headache, because the symptoms can be similar.

What are the symptoms of occipital neuralgia?

Occipital neuralgia can cause very intense pain that feels like a sharp, jabbing, electric shock in the back of the head and neck. Other symptoms of occipital neuralgia may include:

  • Aching, burning, and throbbing pain that typically starts at the base of the head and radiates to the scalp
  • Pain on one or both sides of the head
  • Pain behind the eye
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Tender scalp
  • Pain when moving the neck

What are the causes of occipital neuralgia?

Occipital neuralgia is the result of compression or irritation of the occipital nerves due to injury, inflammation or entrapment of the nerves. Many times no cause is found.

There are many medical conditions that are associated with occipital neuralgia, including:

  • Trauma to the back of the head/whiplash
  • Neck tension and/or tight neck muscles
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Tumors in the neck
  • Cervical disc disease
  • Infection

Diagnosing occipital neuralgia

A physical exam will be preformed, and other tests may be ordered, such as blood tests or an MRI scans. An anesthetic nerve block may be administered to see if it relieves the pain. If it works, occipital neuralgia is likely the cause of the pain.

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