Occipital neuralgia and migraine headaches are often confused with each other because of similar symptoms. But treatment options vary, so receiving a proper diagnosis is important for pursuing the best course of action.
Occipital neuralgia is a condition in which the occipital nerves that run from the top of the spinal cord through the scalp become inflamed or injured. While doctors often can’t find a cause, some conditions can be linked including:
- Injury or trauma to the back of the head
- Neck tension
- Neck tumors
- Cervical disc disease
- Blood vessel inflammation
The most prevalent symptom is aching, burning or throbbing pain from the base of the neck to the scalp. It sometimes feels like a sharp electric shock. Pain can also occur on one or both sides of the head and behind the eye. Patients are often sensitive to light, have a tender scalp and experience increased pain when they move their neck.
No test can specifically diagnose occipital neuralgia. A physical exam is the primary diagnostic tool where the physician presses firmly around the back of the neck to see if the pain can be replicated. A nerve block may be administered to see if there is any pain relief. If there is, occipital neuralgia is likely the cause.
Different treatment options exist to help patients cope with occipital neuralgia, from medications and physical therapy to nerve block injections. Nerve blocks can provide patients with relief for weeks to months at a time. When combined with stretching exercises, patients can resume a normal lifestyle.
If you suffer from occipital neuralgia, schedule an appointment with Piedmont Interventional Pain to discuss treatment options.