What is an Occipital Nerve Block?

Occipital nerve blocks explained by Denver, Golden, Aurora, Boulder, Broomfield, Jefferson, and Littleton Colorado’s top pain doctors

Occipital Nerve HeadacheOccipital nerve blocks are a non-invasive form of treatment for chronic headaches. People who suffer from headaches generally report experiencing throbbing pain in the skull that radiates from the head to the neck. Blocking the occipital nerve disrupts the transmission of pain signals and, in doing so, decreases the occurrence of headaches. This procedure provides significant pain relief for several months by treating inflamed nerves in the occipital region.

Frequent headaches are becoming a health issue that affects individuals on a global level. Moreover, in terms of populations around the entire world, 3-5% of individuals suffer from some form of headache including tension headaches, migraines, occipital neuralgia, and cluster headaches. In particular, patients who have occipital neuralgia tend to experience symptoms such as irregular, throbbing pain in the occipital nerves. These nerves are located directly above the neck near the base of the head.

The number of people who experience chronic headaches is consistently rising and therefore, several medical advancements have been established in order to improve headache treatment. The occipital nerve block procedure is a beneficial option for patients whose headaches are persistent and disabling.

How is an Occipital Nerve Block Performed?

LidocaineAn occipital nerve block is a surgical procedure that can be performed quickly without causing significant pain or discomfort and it is quite safe. Before the procedure begins, the targeted area will be cleaned and an anesthetic will be applied to the injection site. In order to administer the nerve block, both steroids and an anesthetic are directly injected into the occipital nerves under the scalp. This is the region near the bottom of the head, but directly above the neck.

If the nerve block was performed correctly, the region in the head where the medication was injected should rapidly become numb. The patient will be monitored after the procedure in order to determine the extent of pain relief. It has been reported that both inflammation and pain quickly decrease in some patients, while others begin to experience relief approximately three days after receiving the injection.

Occipital Nerve LocationIf symptoms such as tenderness or swelling occur after the nerve block, the steroid that was initially injected into the affected region should reduce the pain. Common side effects that have been reported include an allergic reaction to the medication (e.g., anesthesia), an infection, a hematoma, and bleeding, but the occurrence is minimal.

Patients can generally return to their daily routine approximately 24 hours after undergoing the occipital nerve block. However, the full effect may not be noticed until two or three days following the injection. The steroid that is administered may provide pain relief that lasts for several months. Patients who do not experience a dramatic reduction in pain are usually administered a second nerve block injection.

Conditions Related To Occipital Nerve Blocks

The occipital nerve block procedure successfully treats occipital neuralgia as well as migraine, cluster, and tension headaches. Occipital nerves are located between the bottom of the head and the top of the neck. Pain that originates in this region is typically treated by this type of nerve block. Patients with these types of afflictions respond well to occipital nerve blocks. Moreover, the success rate that is associated with this procedure is higher for patients suffering from chronic pain that has recently been diagnosed as opposed to those who have experienced headaches for a long time. People who were suffering from shooting, pounding, burning, or throbbing pain at the base of the head have also reported significant pain relief after undergoing a nerve block.

Furthermore, this is an optimal alternative treatment for individuals who have not experienced pain relief from opioid treatments. Occipital nerve blocks have also proven to be effective for patients with serious head injuries (e.g., blunt trauma).
Cluster Headache

Conclusion

An occipital nerve block is a non-invasive treatment option for chronic headache sufferers that can be performed in an outpatient setting. It has a high rate of success for individuals who have received a recent diagnosis of a headache-related condition or a traumatic head injury. This procedure provides pain relief for several months and can be safely repeated if the initial block does not lead to a significant decrease in pain. 

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References

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