Occipital neuralgia is a chronic pain condition that causes the nerves around the back of the head and the base of the skull to become inflamed and painful. People often confuse occipital neuralgia with chronic migraine and different types of headache pain, which can cause this condition to go misdiagnosed for a long period of time. Fortunately, the pain management specialists at Southwest Spine and Pain Center have years of experience diagnosing pain conditions like occipital neuralgia, so they know the tell-tale signs of the disease. Patients experiencing severe pain primarily in or around the back of the head and neck may suffer from the condition, but a thorough examination will be necessary to determine whether or not this condition is causing the patient’s pain.
Occipital neuralgia typically results from some type of injury, irritation, or damage to the occipital nerves. As such, patients may develop this condition from a trauma, like a car accident; blow to the back of the head; a pinched nerve root in the neck, or intense trigger points around the neck and shoulders that cause the occipital nerves to become entrapped. Other causes of occipital neuralgia may include gout, diabetes, blood vessel inflammation, and cervical disc disease. On rare occasions, an infection or tumor in the neck may also lead to occipital neuralgia.
As we mentioned previously, occipital neuralgia has some pretty tell-tale signs that differ from conditions that are similar in nature. Still, that doesn’t mean this condition doesn’t get misdiagnosed from time to time. In fact, patients seeing a primary care specialist or some other physician who may not have an extensive background in diagnosing pain conditions may leave their appointment with confusion and very little relief. Often times, occipital neuralgia gets misdiagnosed as a migraine or chronic headache condition, resulting in inaccurate and inadequate treatment. Fortunately, the pain management physicians at Southwest Spine and Pain Center know how to identify this condition. Some of the most common symptoms associated with occipital neuralgia include: pain that develops in the greater, lesser, and/or third occipital nerves; pain that is episodic, lasting several seconds or minutes; pain that can be described as piercing, sharp, or stabbing, and severe tenderness around the affected area.
For milder cases of occipital neuralgia, patients may experience pain relief from conservative therapies, such as warm and cold compresses, massage therapy, rest, and over-the-counter pain relievers. As the pain intensifies, patients may seek the care of a professional for long-term pain relief. A pain management specialist may prescribe an antiepileptic drug or a tricyclic antidepressant to help prevent or decrease the frequency of pain episodes. In addition to these medications, patients may benefit from different types of interventional pain therapies, such as occipital nerve blocks and pulsed radiofrequency, and occipital nerve stimulation. These treatments are incredibly beneficial and can be repeated as necessary.