Occipital neuralgia is a specific type of headache and a rare condition, affecting about 3.2 people out of every 100,000 a year according to the American Migraine Foundation. Although occipital neuralgia is not a life-threatening condition it can be very uncomfortable, and the pain can affect one’s daily life.

Occipital Neuralgia Symptoms

Having occipital neuralgia may cause pain in the back of the head or base of the skull. It is often confused as a migraine or a different type of headache as the symptoms of occipital neuralgia can be similar. It is important to know if you have occipital neuralgia as treatment options are very different. 

The condition may cause intense pain that has been described as feeling like a jabbing, electric shock, sharp pain located in the back of the head and neck. Other symptoms associated with occipital neuralgia include the following:

  • Pain behind the eye
  • Tender scalp
  • Pain when moving your neck
  • Pain occurring on one side or both sides of the head
  • An aching, burning, and throbbing pain that may start at the base of the head and travel up to the scalp

If you are unsure if you have occipital neuralgia, it is important to seek professional advice for treatments. As stated above, treatment options for other types of headaches are different and occipital neuralgia can have similar symptoms.

What Causes Occipital Neuralgia?

Occipital neuralgia is when the occipital nerves, the nerves that run from the top of the spinal cord up through the scalp, are inflamed or injured. These nerves can suffer from inflammation or injury from any of the following:

  • Tension or tight muscles in the neck
  • Tumors in the neck
  • Trauma to the back of the head
  • Inflammation
  • Infection

In addition, there are other medical conditions that are linked to occipital neuralgia. These conditions include:

  • Diabetes – Diabetes occurs when the pancreas (the organ behind the stomach) is unable to produce enough insulin to help the body store and use the sugar and fat from the food a person eats. Diabetes can damage the nerves and cause occipital neuralgia to develop.
  • Cervical disc disease – Cervical disc disease develops when one or more of the cushioning discs located in the cervical spine begin to break down from wear and tear. This can cause pain in the neck and bring on the onset of occipital neuralgia.
  • Blood vessel inflammation – Also known as vasculitis, blood vessel inflammation restricts the flow of blood and causes organ and tissue damage. Injury and inflammation of the nerves from blood vessel inflammation can cause occipital neuralgia.
  • Gout – A type of arthritis that occurs when there is too much uric acid in the blood and sharp crystals begin to form in one or more joints.
  • Osteoarthritis – The most common form of arthritis caused by cartilage wearing down over time due to aging, injury, or obesity.

Treatments for Occipital Neuralgia

There are many different treatments to help aid someone who is experiencing discomfort with occipital neuralgia symptoms. To help relieve the pain linked to occipital neuralgia, the following treatments are common options:

  • Massaging tight and painful neck muscles
  • Resting in a quiet room
  • Over the counter anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Prescription muscle relaxants
  • Antidepressants
  • Antiseizure drugs
  • Nerve blocks and steroid shots

A rare option for treating occipital neuralgia is an operation to treat the pain if the pain has shown no signs of improvement after other treatments or the pain from occipital neuralgia comes back. Surgery for treating occipital neuralgia include:

  • Occipital nerve stimulation – A neurostimulator is used to deliver electrical pulses to the occipital nerves to help block pain messages to the brain.
  • Microvascular decompression – This surgery involves finding and adjusting blood vessels that could be compressing your nerve in hopes to relieve pain.

Keep in mind, all the above treatment options target occipital neuralgia symptoms. Although some treatment options include massaging and resting to help relax the tense or injured area, other options like medication and surgery treat the symptoms of occipital neuralgia by altering the way the body works and responds.

Since medication and surgery are not always successful in improving occipital neuralgia symptoms, it is recommended to try an all-natural treatment for occipital neuralgia before trying a treatment that alters the body unnaturally. One all-natural treatment option that has helped many patients with occipital neuralgia is called upper cervical adjustments, and they work by helping your body target and correct the underlying cause of your occipital neuralgia instead of focusing on the symptoms.

Upper Cervical Chiropractic Treatment for Occipital Neuralgia

Upper cervical adjustments are a highly effective treatment option for patients with occipital neuralgia. The reason behind this is simple: upper cervical adjustments work by releasing tension put on your occipital nerves!

Unlike other treatment options, upper cervical adjustments help the body target what is causing your occipital neuralgia. If your body can heal and repair the affected nerves, occipital neuralgia and its symptoms begin to improve. An upper cervical chiropractor focuses on the upper cervical spine, located right beneath the base of the skull. A misalignment located in the upper cervical spine can apply pressure onto your nerves and cause them injury or inflammation. Fixing this misalignment with gentle, precise adjustments allows all pressure to be taken off the nerves. 

The brain stem is also protected by your upper cervical spine and having a misalignment in the upper cervical spine can disrupt how your brain stem operates. The brain stem is the bridge of communication between the brain and the body and if disturbed, many signals can be misinterpreted; including pain signals and can cause one to feel a heightened sense of pain or feel pain when there is no reason for it. Upper cervical adjustments help the brain stem maintain proper function and allows the brain to body communication to return to normal to begin the repairing and healing process.

When the body is restored to a state in which it can repair and heal itself properly, it can help the nerves that were affected and begin to relieve the symptoms that were caused by them. Many patients have seen great improvement after as little as one adjustment, even after trying medication and surgery! This is because medication and surgery do not allow the body to repair and heal itself and instead tries to trick the body into ignoring the symptoms while the main problem persists.

If you or a loved one is suffering from occipital neuralgia, a look into upper cervical adjustments can prove to be very beneficial as it can improve the current state of your body overall due to removing any interference you may have with the brain to body communication and help the body target what is actually causing your condition.