canyon landscape

Occipital Neuralgia

What is occipital neuralgia?

Occipital neuralgia is a form of headache that is characterized by pain in the areas supplied by the occipital nerves, such as the upper neck, the back of the head, and behind the ears. The occipital nerves run from the area where the spinal column meets the neck up to the scalp at the back of the head.

Occipital Neuralgia Symptoms

Pain associated with occipital neuralgia is usually described as sharp, shooting, or stabbing pain beginning in the neck and spreading up toward the scalp. Pain usually lasts a few seconds to a few minutes and is severe in intensity. Your scalp may also be tender to the touch.

Many conditions can cause headaches. Contact a medical professional if you are experiencing symptoms.

Occipital Neuralgia Treatments

The following may be used to treat occipital neuralgia:

  • Massages
  • Physical therapy
  • Nerve blocks
  • Steroid injections
  • Anti-inflammatory medications
  • Antidepressants
  • Muscle relaxers

Additional Information

How common is occipital neuralgia?

Pure occipital neuralgia is relatively rare, affecting an estimated 3.2 per 100,000 people per year. However, people who have migraine or other headache types often have concurrent occipital neuralgia.

Who gets occipital neuralgia?

Occipital neuralgia can affect anyone, but the pain may be caused by any of the following:

  • Head trauma that has injured the nerves
  • Overly tight neck muscles
  • Compression of the nerves due to osteoarthritis, tumors, or other lesions
  • Localized inflammation or infection
  • Diabetes
  • Gout
  • Blood vessel inflammation (vasculitis)

How is occipital neuralgia diagnosed?

Your doctor may use the following to confirm a diagnosis of occipital neuralgia:

  • Medical history
  • Physical examination
  • Injection of local anesthetic along the occipital nerves (occipital nerve block) to see if the pain stops
  • Imaging to rule out other conditions

Additional Support + Resources

The Neuralgias: Diagnosis and Management—Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
American Migraine Foundation
International Headache Society

Group 49
  per 100,000 People
Pure occipital neuralgia is relatively rare, affecting an estimated 3.2 per 100,000 people per year.
Medically Reviewed by Kerry Knievel, DO, FAHS on June 8, 2021

Request an Appointment with an Occipital Neuralgia Specialist

Call (602) 406-6262