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304 North Cardinal St.
Dorchester Center, MA 02124
Occipital neuralgia is the neck/head pain that results from injury or irritation to the occipital nerves. It can be caused by trauma, such as a car accident, by a pinched nerve root in the neck (from arthritis, for example) or by tight muscles at the back of the head that entrap the nerves.
Occipital neuralgia is not a life-threatening condition. Most people get good pain relief by resting and taking medication.
Left untreated, complications of untreated occipital neuralgia can be serious or even life threatening. You can help minimize your risk of serious complications by following the treatment plan you and your health care professional design specifically for you.
If the pain has been going on for several days, is severe or associated with blurry vision, difficulty walking or talking or confusion, you should go to the ER right away, because something bad might be going on. Strokes, bleeding within the brain, tumors are some serious causes of this type of pain.
Besides shoulder, arm, and upper back pain, a pinched neck nerve can cause certain kinds of headaches. Usually, the pain is on the same side as your pinched neck nerve. The aching can spread down from the back of your skull to between the shoulder blades or to your forehead, brow, and eye.
Most cases disappear in 1 to 2 months. In rare cases, it can last longer than a year.
Occipital neuralgia may occur spontaneously, or as the result of a pinched nerve root in the neck (from arthritis, for example), or because of prior injury or surgery to the scalp or skull. Sometimes tight muscles at the back of the head can entrap the nerves.
Every patient’s pain experience is unique, but headaches associated with brain tumors tend to be constant and are worse at night or in the early morning. They are often described as dull, pressure-type headaches, though some patients also experience sharp or stabbing pain.
Symptoms of occipital neuralgia include continuous aching, burning and throbbing, with intermittent shocking or shooting pain that generally starts at the base of the head and goes to the scalp on one or both sides of the head. Patients often have pain behind the eye of the affected side of the head.
It can occur when there is pressure or damage to the occipital nerves. These start in the neck and run up the sides of the head. In most cases, the pain will improve with home remedies or medication. If the problem persists or recurs, however, a doctor may recommend injections or possibly surgery.
Sleeping Position Matters The pain and tenderness in the neck and head area make it difficult to get a good night’s sleep. Failing to get adequate sleep and sleeping in the wrong position can intensify the pain. In fact, sleeping with a poor posture is a top cause of occipital neuralgia.
Occipital neuralgia is caused by damage to the occipital nerves, which can arise from trauma (usually concussive or cervical), physical stress on the nerve, repetitive neck contraction, flexion or extension, and/or as a result of medical complications (such as osteochondroma, a benign bone tumour).
Although this is not a condition that is life-threatening, the pain can be extremely debilitating for patients, many of whom find it difficult to continue with their ‘normal’ lives because the pain is simply excruciating and they find it hard to concentrate, or even function effectively.
The best position for people with occipital neuralgia to sleep in is on their back with a pillow that provides neck support and prevents side-to-side movement. If you cannot sleep on your back, the next best position is on your side.
Some cases of occipital neuralgia may be related to poor posture stressing the nerves. The chin tuck exercise aims to stretch the muscles and connective tissue in the painful area and strengthen the muscles that align your head over your shoulders.
A pinched nerve in the neck may feel like pins and needles. It might also cause pain and weakness in the shoulder, arm, or hand. Severe cases require medical care. But if your symptoms are mild, you can try exercises for a pinched nerve in the neck.
Tension-type headache, which is much more common, occasionally mimics the pain of occipital neuralgia.
Occipital neuralgia is a distinct type of headache characterized by piercing, throbbing, or electric-shock-like chronic pain in the upper neck, back of the head, and behind the ears, usually on one side of the head. Typically, the pain of occipital neuralgia begins in the neck and then spreads upwards.
Does occipital neuralgia go away? Occipital neuralgia may go away with time if the cause of your occipital nerve inflammation is corrected.
Patients with diabetes have an increased risk to develop occipital neuralgia. This is because diabetes causes neuropathy or inflammation of the nerves themselves, including the occipital nerves. Tumors and infections are rare causes of occipital neuralgia.
Tumor. A brain tumor, especially if it is located in the cerebellum, can cause a stiff neck. A tumor in the cervical spine, such as from cancer, could also cause the neck to become sore and/or stiff.
First signs and symptoms of a brain tumor may be severe headaches and seizures. Severe, persistent headaches that may not be related to an existing illness such as migraine is considered a common finding in patients with a brain tumor. Pain may be worse in the mornings and may be associated with nausea or vomiting.
The signs symptoms of brain tumors depend on their size, type, and location. The most common signs symptoms include headaches; numbness or tingling in the arms or legs; seizures; memory problems; mood and personality changes; balance and walking problems; nausea and vomiting; or changes in speech, vision, or hearing.
Some have suggested that ON can be induced by trauma or injury of the occipital nerves or their roots, but tumor has rarely been reported as a cause of ON.
Neurologists and primary care doctors familiar with these neuralgias will often use specialized medications to treat patients with occipital neuralgia.
The greater occipital nerve arises from between the first and second cervical vertebrae, along with the lesser occipital nerve. It supplies sensation to the skin along the back of the scalp to the top of the head.