Occipital Neuralgia: The Benefits of Pulsed Radiofrequency
The condition occipital neuralgia is actually quite a rare condition that is often only diagnosed after some time. This is simply because it is not the condition that is immediately thought of. Usually the condition is perceived to be migraines or even cluster headaches.
However, once a diagnosis has been made, patients often feel optimistic for the first time since the condition started. After all, it has been diagnosed now, so now it can be treated.
Yet this condition is notoriously difficult to treat. There is no silver bullet or magic wand that will simply arrest the condition and return patients to a pain free existence.
Medication and Occipital Neuralgia
Conservative treatment options for occipital neuralgia tend to be physiotherapy, medication and even nerve blocks. But it is often the case that patients do not find these treatments alleviate the condition, or conversely they may find that medication in particular can help treat the pain, but they find it difficult to live with the side-effects that tend to accompany the medication.
This is primarily because medication used to treat this condition is quite strong and the stronger the medication, the more likely people are to suffer side effects. In particular some of the anti-seizure or anti-depressants that are prescribed can make patients feel tired or lethargic and also can interfere with work, so they are not ideal.
Some people may also prefer not to take medication over a long period, simply because they worry about the long term use of drugs and the build up in the body.
Nerve Root Blocks
Nerve blocks are sometimes used to block the nerves from sending pain signals, but these may not always be successful. The pain can often return or the procedure does not alleviate the pain to the levels that the patient has hoped for, so they can feel a little (or a lot) frustrated at this stage.
Pulsed radiofrequency is a very safe and only minimally invasive procedure whereby the nerves are treated not with heat (as per traditional radiofrequency), but with short ‘bursts’ of energy. The nerves are not heated up and ‘killed’ as per other methods of radiofrequency, but instead they are effectively re-educated so that they no longer feel pain and they ‘think’ that they are in a pain-free state.
The main benefit of pulsed radiofrequency is that it offers effective treatment of the condition without having to use strong medication, so it is very much a viable alternative to medication.
It also offers patients the chance of longer term pain relief because it can last for up to a year. Patients also like the way that the procedure is relatively painless and does not require a stay in hospital.
Although nerve root blocks are also relatively pain free and can be quite effective, early indications are that they do not offer such long term pain relief as the pulsed radiofrequency.
It is true that pulsed radiofrequency is not a magic wand, but it really has a role to play in treating occipital neuralgia and certainly worth considering, in order to minimise the pain experienced with this debilitating condition.