Occipital neuralgia is one of the most severe forms of neuropathic (nerve) pain. It is often described as a throbbing pain which begins in the lower area of the neck and spreads to the scalp and forehead. It occurs when the occipital nerve that runs from the base of the skull becomes injured, inflamed or irritated.
Often a group of nerves that cause pain to a specific organ or body region can be blocked with the injection of medication into a specific area of the body. The injection of this nerve-numbing substance is called a nerve block.
If the nerve pain is not responding to conservative treatment, such as anti-neuropathic medication, a nerve block is worth considering. This is not an invasive technique, but one where local anaesthetic and cortisone (a steroid) is injected into the muscle, in the region where the malfunctioning nerve passes through the muscles. The anaesthetic immediately dulls the pain, providing instant relief to the patient. The cortisone will then kick in at a very slow rate, soothing the nerves and inflammation.
All the aspects of the procedure are clearly explained to the patient, along with the possible risks and side effects. A consent form is signed to confirm approval. Where required, the patient’s medical history will also be discussed to ensure that no adverse factors are present.
After the patient has taken their position, patients are given an intravenous sedation to ensure the procedure is pain-free and easy to tolerate. Upon completion, the area to be injected is cleaned with a sterile scrub. Using x-ray guidance, the physician will then insert a needle through the skin and deeper tissues. The injection contains a mixture of local anaesthetic and cortisone (a steroid). The patient will then be monitored for a minimum of 30 minutes after the procedure is over and will then be allowed to return home once they have recovered from their sedation.
After a week there is often a very significant reduction in pain, with up to 80% of patients feeling better.