What is Occipital Neuralgia and How is it Treated?

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If you live with occipital neuralgia, or know someone with the compromising condition, then you’re well aware of how frustrating, uncomfortable and difficult it can be. Often confused with migraines and tension headaches, the disorder is characterized by intense, throbbing pain that runs from the spinal cord to the scalp. This pain occurs when the occipital nerves become injured or inflamed, and is usually felt on the back of the head, as well as the skull’s base. These six effective treatments can help you manage the pain of occipital neuralgia, and even make it cease for an extended period of time:


1.    Peripheral Nerve Blocks

Used to treat a number of headache-related conditions for years, peripheral nerve blocks are injections used in peripheral trigeminal and cervical nerve branches to bring about fast-acting relief, lasting up to months at a time. Since occipital neuralgia is not just a migraine or headache, taking prescribed medication will not work, making peripheral nerve blocks a great starting point for your treatment plan.


2.    Radiofrequency Ablation

A procedure that utilizes electric currents or radio waves, radiofrequency ablation creates heat that interrupts nerve conduction – specifically the pain signals, dissipating the aches and soreness brought on by the blocked nerve. When you opt for radiofrequency ablation, the nerves are blocked for 6 to 9 months, although it could be blocked for as long as 18 months.


3.    Peripheral Nerve Stimulation

If you’ve already tried less-invasive treatment options and are still feeling serious pain from your occipital neuralgia, consider peripheral nerve stimulation. Defined by a series of treatment techniques used to fix the pain that stems from the neuropathic condition, peripheral nerve stimulation uses numerous leads that contain electrodes, specifically positioned around the peripheral nerves that will benefit accordingly. This is especially helpful for those with occipital neuralgia, because the physician is able to reach areas that are difficult to reach, like the skull, occiput and face.


4.    Physical Therapy

Although there are many exercises specifically created for countless disorders, massage is one of the most beneficial techniques for those who suffer from occipital neuralgia. When a pain management specialist gives the affected area the proper attention it deserves – via a massage – it allows the nerve blood and oxygen to flow freely, assisting the healing process to damaged nerves. Back and neck exercises are also great, as they strengthen the muscles and, in turn, decrease the pressure on nerves and prevent further headaches.


5.    Medication 

In some cases, it will be necessary for a doctor to prescribe medication for the relief and treatment of occipital neuralgia. While every single case is unique, medications that are usually used to treat painful symptoms include muscle relaxants, anti-seizure drugs (like carbamazepine and gabapentin) and antidepressants. As mentioned, nerve blocks and steroid shots may also be used.


6.    Surgery

Even though occipital neuralgia is not a life-threatening condition, more extreme surgical measures may need to be taken to keep the side effects of the disorder under control. In those intense cases, an operation may be necessary if the pain does not subside with other treatments, or comes back frequently. Patients may need to have a microvascular decompression, in which a doctor is able to alleviate the pain by adjusting blood vessels that compress the damaged nerve. Occipital nerve stimulation is another surgical option, and requires a doctor to use a neuro stimulator to deliver electrical pulses to the occipital nerves. This stimulator aides in blocking pain messages, and prevents them from traveling to the brain.


Pain Management in NJ

Don’t allow your occipital neuralgia control your life – get the proper treatment you deserve at one of Premier Pain Center’s seven New Jersey locations. Our centers specialize in obtaining dramatic results in pain management without the need for major surgery, and we are excited to assist you in relieving pain in an effective, fast and logical way. Request an appointment by calling our office at (732) 380-0200.