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.
Peripheral Electrical Nerve Stimulation (PENS)
PENS is a potentially ground breaking advance in the treatment of occipital neuralgia as it can be used to treat its severe symptoms of pain in an effective way without the use of strong medication or invasive surgery. Using PENS in the treatment of occipital neuralgia in an effective method without the use of strong medication or invasive surgery.
PENS is actually a fusion of the benefits of TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation), with electro-acupuncture. In essence it harnesses the benefits of both into a very effective way of treating pain. TENS is a more familiar treatment, whereby electrical impulses, without needles are passed through the skin to treat the nerve endings and stop them from feeling pain. PENS is slightly different in the sense that the electrical impulses are delivered through the skin.
This fundamental difference in the two applications is that PENS can directly target the nerve endings that are causing the nerve pain. When a TENS procedure is used, the skin can often act as a barrier and some of the electrical stimulation is lost through the skin’s natural defenses, so a PENS system can get straight to the root of the problem and none of the potency of the electrodes is lost.
PENS uses a low voltage electrical current delivered to the damaged tissue or peripheral nerves to relieve the pain. In effect, it dampens down the overactive nerves that are causing pain.
PENS therapy does not destroy any nerves; it just makes them less sensitive to pain. A low voltage electrical current is delivered via a specially designed needle to a layer of tissue just below the surface of the skin close to the specific nerve, or to the nerve endings situated in an area that is painful. The needle is placed with a small amount of local anaesthetic on the skin. The needle is connected to a specialised machine that is then turned on and delivers the electrical current. The procedure lasts for about 30 minutes, then the machine is turned off and the needle removed. Patients can go home a short time after this.
This is considered a low risk procedure, with very few side effects, which may include some bruising and tenderness at the probe insertion site. There is a very small risk of infection and nerve damage. Some patients will have total pain relief, while others experience prolonged pain relief for three months or more.