Occipital Neuralgia

Occipital neuralgia is a condition in which the nerves that run from the beginning of the spinal cord at the base of the neck to the scalp are inflamed or incapacitated. Occipital neuralgia can feel like a migraine or other headache. However occipital neuralgia is a specific disorder that requires proper diagnosis in order to be treated.


Occipital neuralgia can cause sharp pain that feels like a jabbing electric shock in the back of the neck and head. One may also experience aching or burning, bilateral pain in the head, pain in the eye, neck pain, light sensitivity, and a tender scalp.


Your doctor will need to know about your past medical history and injuries in order to make the diagnosis for occipital neuralgia. A physical exam and blood tests or MRIs may also be needed. Your doctor may also try to relieve the pain using an anesthetic nerve block. If this does work, occipital neuralgia is most likely the cause of the pain. It is extremely important to receive a proper diagnosis, this will lead to the best outcome after treatment.

Risk Factors

Occipital neuralgia results from irritation of the occipital nerves after injury, nerve entrapment or inflammation. Often, doctors cannot find one specific cause. The medical conditions associated with occipital neuralgia are head trauma, neck tension, neck tumors, cervical disc disease, gout, infection, diabetes, and osteoarthritis.


The treatment depends on what is causing the irritation. In order to achieve relief doctors may suggest heat application to the neck, quiet rest, neck massage, or over the counter anti-inflammatory drugs. Your doctor may also prescribe antidepressant medication, anticonvulsant drugs, muscle relaxants (by prescription), and some short time use nerve blocks. Surgery also may be considered. These would include microvascular decompression in order to adjust blood vessels that may compress the nerve, or occipital nerve stimulation.