The Debilitating Effects and Treatment Options For Occipital Neuralgia

The Debilitating Effects and Treatment Options For Occipital Neuralgia

Occipital neuralgia can be a very distressing condition for any patient to experience. It presents as a particularly violent headache, which is fairly distinct from a general headache or even migraine headaches (although there can be some common symptoms between occipital neuralgia and a migraine).

Patients often report that the pain can often start in the upper neck and then it spreads to different parts of the head, which are generally at the back of the head and behind the ears.

Patients may feel that the headache is akin to an electric shock and it can be chronic (very long lasting). In addition, patients often report other effects, such as severe scalp sensitivity, extreme light sensitivity and even pain directly at the back of the eyes.

In some instances patients may initially feel that they have experienced a migraine if they suffer the light sensitivity or the pain in the eyes, however the 2 conditions are not the same.

Many patients report that they find the headaches extremely unsettling initially and many are fearful that the condition could be life threatening because of its intensity, but it is not life threatening.

Diagnosis of Occipital Neuralgia

Early indications may point to a patient suffering from occipital neuralgia if the pain is experienced or can be attributed to the greater and lesser occipital nerves. These are nerves that actually run from the point where the neck joins the spinal column right up to the back part of the head.

Any patient presenting with pain in this area would be suspected of having occipital neuralgia.

Usually occipital neuralgia will be officially diagnosed after a nerve block is carried out. Effectively this blocks the nerves sending ‘pain signals’ to the brain, so if the patient has no pain after a nerve block, then the diagnosis has accurately pinpointed occipital neuralgia. At this point, treatment options can then be discussed with the patient.

Treatment Options

Treatment options for occipital neuralgia vary according to what has caused the neuralgia in the first place. Sometimes this can be trauma or injury or several underlying medical conditions, or sometimes there is simply no known cause.

Treatments can involve pulsed radiofrequency, steroids, massage, physiotherapy and sometimes even anti-depressants will be prescribed if the patient is depressed by the pain and finds life difficult living with the condition.

Although this is not a condition that is life-threatening, the pain can be extremely debilitating for patients, many of whom find it difficult to continue with their ‘normal’ lives because the pain is simply excruciating and they find it hard to concentrate, or even function effectively.

This means that treatment options for each patient must be very much ‘patient focussed’ treating not just what caused the neuralgia in the first instance, but also ensuring that the patient and their response to the pain is very much the focal point for treatment. There is sadly, no one single treatment, which will be wholly suitable for all.

Your pain consultant will advise on the specific course of treatment that will be appropriate to your needs.


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