Occipital neuralgia is a neuropathic pain disorder originating from the occipital nerve, located in the area of the second and third cervical (neck) bones.
It is a chronic headache characterized by a sharp, throbbing pain or feeling of pressure in the back of the neck and base of the skull. Pain can transfer to other areas of the head, such as the forehead or sides of the face. The affected areas may be sore to the touch and the eyes may feel strained or sensitive to light.
What Causes Occipital Neuralgia?
There are several causes, including:
• Inflammation of the nerves
• Trauma, particularly whiplash injuries
• Blood vessel inflammation
• A tumor pressing on the nerves
• Keeping the head down a lot (for example, by doing lots of reading)
• Compression of the spinal cord
There can be other causes and if you had a neurological problem in childhood you are thought to be at increased risk of having occipital neuralgia.
What are the Treatments for Occipital Neuralgia?
Treatments vary according to the severity of the person’s condition. For mild pain, massage sometimes helps, as does rest and trying to avoid stress. Anti-inflammatory medications can also be used.
For more severe pain, anti-depressant or anti-convulsant drugs may be offered as these alter nerve function and stop the nerve transmitting pain. A nerve block can also be given. This is an injection of local anesthetic and steroid into the affected area. Its effects should be long lasting. If it isn’t, then another option is to have radiation beams fired at the affected nerve to damage it and prevent it from transmitting pain.
Your family doctor or neurologist will be able to discuss the best option for you.
If a tumor is discovered on investigation, then you will be referred to an oncologist for cancer treatment.
Sources: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, Occipital Neuralgia Information Page - http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/occipitalneuralgia/occipitalneuralgia.htm#What_is
London Pain Consultants – Occipital Neuralgia. http://www.londonpainconsultants.com/articles/2006/10/22/occipital_neuralgia/