OCCIPITAL NERVE BLOCKS
The greater and lesser occipital nerves are two nerves located at the back of the head. The nerves originate in the cervical spine and work their way up into the scalp, sometimes as far up as the forehead. They are responsible for providing sensation (including pain) to the top and back of the head. When the occipital nerves are compressed or inflamed, they can cause tension headaches, migraines and other pain symptoms in the regions they supply feeling to. Even though they do not reach the face, occipital nerve-related pain can sometimes spread as far as the eyes.
An occipital nerve block is often used to treat pain in the back of the head and to diagnose whether the occipital nerves are what is causing the pain. The nerve blocks involve injecting medication directly into the affected nerves to relieve pain. For occipital nerve blocks, the injections may include an anesthetic and a corticosteroid. The purpose of the steroid is to help reduce swelling, while the anesthetic produces a numbing effect to reduce or eliminate pain.
AM I A CANDIDATE FOR AN OCCIPITAL NERVE BLOCK?
Occipital nerve blocks are typically performed on individuals who are experiencing nerve-like pain at the back of the head and most often just on one side. The injections tend to have the best effect on patients who describe their pain as shooting, burning or stinging.
Our spine and pain specialists have also had success using occipital nerve blocks to treat patients with:
- Migraines and cluster headaches
- A tender scalp (indication of an inflamed nerve)
- Spondylosis of the cervical facet joints
- A variety of other painful conditions
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM THE PROCEDURE
An occipital nerve block injection takes only a few minutes to perform. It is an outpatient procedure that may be performed using a local anesthetic to numb the skin where the block needle will be inserted.
For the treatment, the patient will be asked to lie down on an examination table, and the area at the back or head will be cleaned with an antiseptic. The doctor will then locate the site of the nerve and perform the injection. The procedure involves inserting a thin needle through the skin into the area where the occipital nerves are located.
WHAT TO EXPECT AFTER AN OCCIPITAL NERVE BLOCK
As a result of the anesthetic the pain relief may be immediate after the injection. Longer term results may vary from one person to another. While some individuals experience pain relief for just a few days after an occipital nerve block treatment, others may remain pain-free for several months. More than one injection may be necessary to keep the symptoms under control.
If the symptoms do not improve after an occipital nerve block, it may be that the occipital nerves are not the source of the problem. If this occurs, the doctor may request additional tests to find the cause of the pain.