Headache from Occipital Neuralgia

Occipital Neuralgia Information Page | National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

Occipital neuralgia is a distinct type of headache characterized by piercing, throbbing, or electric-shock-like chronic pain in the upper neck, back of the head, and behind the ears, usually on one side of the head.  

  • Typically, the pain of occipital neuralgia begins in the neck and then spreads upwards.
  •  Some individuals will also experience pain in the scalp, forehead, and behind the eyes.  
  • Their scalp may also be tender to the touch, and their eyes especially sensitive to light.    

The location of pain is related to the areas supplied by the greater and lesser occipital nerves, which run from the area where the spinal column meets the neck, up to the scalp at the back of the head.  

The pain is caused by irritation or injury to the nerves, which can be the result of trauma to the back of the head, pinching of the nerves by overly tight neck muscles, compression of the nerve as it leaves the spine due to osteoarthritis, or tumors or other types of lesions in the neck.  

Localized inflammation or infection, gout, diabetes, blood vessel inflammation (vasculitis), and frequent lengthy periods of keeping the head in a downward and forward position are also associated with occipital neuralgia.  

In many cases, however, no cause can be found.  A positive response (relief from pain) after an anesthetic nerve block will confirm the diagnosis

Treatment is generally symptomatic and includes massage and rest. In some cases, antidepressants may be used when the pain is particularly severe. Other treatments may include local nerve blocks and injections of steroids directly into the affected area.

Occipital neuralgia is not a life-threatening condition.  Many individuals will improve with therapy involving heat, rest, anti-inflammatory medications, and muscle relaxants.  Recovery is usually complete after the bout of pain has ended and the nerve damage repaired or lessened


4 thoughts on “Headache from Occipital Neuralgia

    1. Zyp Czyk Post author

      I still don’t know how to tell the difference between an occipital and a cervicogenic headache. But I know they are coming from the back of my head and are related to my neck.

      I learned not to watch something with my head turned and not to lie with my head on too thick of a pillow because when my neck stay in an unnatural position for too long, I’ll have a headache the next morning. That sounds more cervicogenic than occipital.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Laura P. Schulman, MD, MA

        It’s the same thing, in this case, because the headache results from certain cervical roots being compressed or irritated. I do get these headaches–the lightening kind, quite maddening–and, like you, if I am able to figure out what a trigger is, I avoid it like the plague.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Pingback: Headaches common with EDS | EDS and Chronic Pain News & Info

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