Occipital neuralgia is a headache with pain that starts in the back of the neck or head and moves to the scalp. It happens due to a problem with the two occipital nerves in the neck.
The exact cause is not always known. Other times it may be due to injury or irritation of the nerve from problems like:
Trauma to the back of the head
Neck muscles that are very tight or tense
Pressure on the nerves from things like swollen blood vessels, gout, tumors, or cysts
Things that may raise the chance of occipital neuralgia are:
Current or prior neck injury
Prior surgery to the head and neck
A spine, neck, or head that is not normal in structure
Repeat stress or strain on the neck
The main problem is pain that starts in the back of the neck or head and moves up the scalp. It may be sudden, sharp, burning, or throbbing. The area may also feel numb. How long it lasts differs in each person.
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. A neurological exam may also be done.
Images may be taken of the head and neck. This can be done with:
Occipital neuralgia. American Association of Neurological Surgeons website. Available at: http://www.aans.org/Patient%20Information/Conditions%20and%20Treatments/Occiptal%20Neuralgia.aspx. Accessed April 24, 2020.
Occipital neuraglia. Johns Hopkins Medicine website. Available at: http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/healthlibrary/conditions/adult/nervous_system_disorders/Occipital_Neuralgia_22,OccipitalNeuralgia. Accessed April 24, 2020.
Occipital neuralgia information page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/All-Disorders/Occipital-Neuralgia-Information-Page. Updated March 27, 2019. Accessed April 24, 2020.
Therapeutic pain blocks. Johns Hopkins Medicine website. Available at: http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/neurology_neurosurgery/centers_clinics/headache/procedures/greater_occipital_nerve_block.html. Accessed April 24, 2020.
Last reviewed February 2020 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
Rimas Lukas, MD
Last Updated: 4/24/2020
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