Nerve damage in any part of the body can cause significant pain throughout various limbs and organs. Nerve cells communicate information with each other, and send signals to larger muscles and organs. Nerves help us receive information about our surroundings, and alert us to sensations like heat and pain.
Occipital nerves are located in the occipital region of the head (the back of the head), and control the feeling in the back and top of the head. When these nerves are damaged or irritated, it is possible to experience pain on one side of the scalp, a condition called occipital neuralgia. This pain is usually a tingling, shooting or electric feeling, and may be accompanied by numbness or heightened sensitivity in the area. Most people will feel pain from occipital neuralgia in their forehead, but the pain can also be severe in the neck and behind the eyes.
There are seven flat bones that make up the neck, called the cervical vertebrae. There are nerves that run between these vertebrae that supply messages of movement and feeling to the head and face. Occipital neuralgia occurs when the second cervical verteba is affected, due to the disc in this area pressing on the nerves. This can be caused by a number of injuries or conditions, including: trauma, such as a car accident; a pinched nerve in the neck; complications or scar tissue formation after surgery; arthritis; repetitious contraction of the neck; flexion or extension; bone tumors; or other injury to the head or scalp.
Injuries from a car accident, such as whiplash, can be a common cause of occipital neuralgia. It’s possible for this type of trauma to cause a disc to bulge or herniate in the cervical region of the neck, which can ultimately lead to pain in the neck and behind the eyes. When a disc herniates or ruptures, it can be pushed forward, which can lead to entrapment of the nerves near the spinal column, causing pain.
The most common sign of occipital neuralgia is chronic headache pain in the forehead or at the temples. Because headaches are a fairly common symptom of many conditions, it can be difficult and take time to diagnose occipital neuralgia correctly. Pain from occipital neuralgia usually begins to form at the back of the head (in the occipital region), causing many people to feel pain in their neck before the condition progresses and spreads upwards towards the top of the head. Because of the headache-like symptoms, your eyes may be more sensitive to light than usual, and throbbing pain can often be felt behind the eyes.
Other symptoms of occipital neuralgia include: feelings of tenderness in the scalp, pain felt behind the eyes, burning pain in the back of the head, pain on one or both sides of the head, and an increase in pain when moving the neck.
Most cases of occipital neuralgia can be treated with conservative measures and still provide sufficient pain relief. Generally, following a treatment program involving heat therapy, rest, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and/or muscle relaxants will yield excellent results. Steroids, such as prednisone, and anti-depressants, like tricyclics, can also both be helpful in managing pain. Because occipital neuralgia is generally caused by the entrapment of a nerve, a nerve block can be another very beneficial form of treatment. Nerve blocks are injections of numbing medication that are inserted directly into the affected nerve, and can cause immediate pain relief. Cold injections are also being used by some pain management specialists as a newer type of procedure.
If these conservative treatments do not provide the desired benefits of pain relief, surgery may be considered as a treatment option. When the nerve at the second cervical vertebra is pinched, a surgeon can remove the disc or bone that is causing the compression. Furthermore, the nerve can be severed to alleviate pain, if necessary. However, this procedure, known as neurolysis, is used as a last resort as it can greatly inhibit feeling and movement in parts of the skull.
At BASIC, we specialize in conditions of the spine, like occipital neuralgia. We have an experienced pain management team on staff to create comprehensive treatment programs, as well as skilled surgeons to provide more intensive care. If you have been experiencing pain associated with occipital neuralgia, you don’t have to suffer any longer. Call us today, at 1-866-398-0868, to schedule a consultation and get back to a pain-free life.