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.
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
- 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
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.
The following may be used to treat occipital neuralgia:
- Physical therapy
- Nerve blocks
- Steroid injections
- Anti-inflammatory medications
- Muscle relaxers
Information and Resources About Occipital Neuralgia
Request an Appointment with an Occipital Neuralgia Specialist
Call (602) 406-6262
- Date of last review: May 1, 2018
- Author: Kerry Knievel, DO