The two occipital nerves, which are located on each side of the head, are responsible for the transmissions of sensations from the top and back of the head to the brain. These nerves emerge from between the bones of the spine in the upper nape, run through the muscles at the back of the head into the scalp, and then end at the forehead. When these nerves are inflamed or injured, the result is the neurological condition known as occipital neuralgia.
The medical condition can be mistaken for headaches particularly migraines as well as trigeminal neuralgia because of the similarity in symptoms including tingling, shooting and zapping pain, extreme sensitivity of the affected area, and numbness, among others. Keep in mind that it is a distinct disorder and, thus, its treatments will be different, too. You must always seek medical attention so that appropriate treatment can be provided.
The neurological condition is usually the result of irritation or compression in the occipital nerves that, in turn, was brought about by inflammation, injury and/or entrapment of the nerves from surgery in the skull or scalp. Basically, the nerve root is being pinched, thus, making it prone to irritations. Unfortunately, many cases of occipital neuralgia have no known causes but the symptoms remain.
Many medical conditions are associated with the neurological issue including:
- Trauma such as from a blunt force to the back of the head
- Tension in the neck caused by sitting in front of the computer for prolonged periods
- Neck tumors
- Cervical disc disease
- Blood vessel inflammation
The identification of the underlying causes of occipital neuralgia is important for obvious reasons. The symptoms of the neurological condition will recur if and when the underlying condition such as gout remains unaddressed with an appropriate treatment plan. Your symptoms can even be significantly improved with self-help measures and no medications when your underlying health condition is under control.
You will not like having this neurological condition because of the following symptoms:
- Extremely intense pain described as a sharp, jabbing and zapping electric shock in the neck and the back of the head. The pain may also be a burning and throbbing pain starting at the base of your head and then radiating toward your scalp. The pain may either stay in just one side or radiate to both sides, too.
- Pain behind the eyes
- Tender scalp
- High sensitivity to bright lights including the glare of sunlight
- Pain when doing even the slightest neck movements
Fortunately, there are several treatment options for occipital neuralgia. It should be emphasized yet again that effective treatment is aimed at addressing the cause of the irritation or inflammation of the occipital nerves. Pain relief is the first defense. This is usually achieved by applying heat compresses to the neck, resting in a quiet room, massaging the tight neck muscles, and taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs like naproxen or ibuprofen.
When these measures fail in eliminating the symptoms of occipital neuralgia, your doctor may prescribe muscle relaxants, antidepressants, and steroid injections as well as local nerve blocks. Surgery may be necessary, said procedures of which include microvascular decompression and occipital nerve stimulation. Ask your doctor about your options.