Occipital neuralgia headaches are very painful. There are, fortunately, many treatment options, including chiropractic
What is Occipital Neuralgia?
Occipital neuralgia (C2 neuralgia, Arnold’s neuralgia) causes chronic pain in the back of the head, behind the eyes, and in the upper neck. The occipital nerves contribute to the pain because they are damaged by physical stress, tumor, Radio Frequency nerve ablation, “repetitious neck contraction, flexion or extension”, or trauma (i.e., concussive). Symptoms include chronic headache, pain around the back of the head or top of the head, and pain behind the eye. The severe pain may originate at the upper neck, and it can be one-sided or two-sided. Patients also often suffer from light sensitivity. Blurred vision may occur, and the pain experienced may be sharp, stabbing, or like a shock. Patients may have discomfort while moving the neck, and they may suffer from having a tender scalp. The pain can be continuous or last only seconds. Because it looks like other medical conditions, occipital neuralgia can be misdiagnosed and mistreated.1 Occipital neuralgia comes from the irritation and compression of the occipital nerves. The nerves may be entrapped. Sometimes, no cause can be determined, but the general medical conditions that may display occipital neuralgia include osteoarthritis, cervical disc disease, infection, gout, diabetes, and neck tension.2
Standard medical options for occipital neuralgia are analgesics, anti-inflammatory medication (i.e., NSAIDs), anti-convulsant medication, and migraine prophylaxis. Other medical treatments for occipital neuralgia may include local nerve block, steroids, rhizotomy, phenol injections, peripheral nervestimulation, antidepressants, Occipital Cryoneurolysis, and surgical treatments.3 Diagnosis can be challenging for this disorder. Physical exam, blood tests, and MRI are three medical methods for diagnosis, but sometimes doctors will provide an anesthetic nerve block to see if the pain subsides. If the latter works, occipital neuralgia is suspected. Accurate diagnosis is critical to receiving the proper treatment. For example, migraine treatments may not work. If the self-care and medication options don’t work, surgeries may be indicated, such as microvascular decompression (adjustment of the blood vessels so that they don’t compress the nerve), and occipital nerve stimulation (sending electrical impulses to stop pain messages from getting to the brain).4
Alternative treatments may hold answers for occipital neuralgia. Some patients can be treated through massage, physical therapy, yoga, rest, heat, acupuncture, and even chiropractic care.5 Medications can have side effects, and surgery carries its own set of complications. Some patients may not even obtain relief through traditional medical methods. Chiropractic care aims to resolve underlying issues instead of masking symptoms. Chiropractors have experience in treating pain caused by trauma, such as whiplash, and they can also help to resolve neck pain, nerve entrapment, and muscle spasm issues. Some of the methods chiropractors might use for occipital neuralgia include traction, massage, heat, and “lift adjustments”.6
Learn how chiropractic can help with migraine headaches.