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Occipital Neuralgia

Pacific Pain Physicians

Interventional Pain Management Specialists located in Santa Barbara, CA & San Luis Obispo, CA

If you live with piercing pain that sends electric-shock sensations through the back of your head and upper neck, you may suffer from occipital neuralgia. Pacific Pain Physicians in Santa Barbara, California, provides diagnostic evaluation and customized treatment to relieve your pain and the nerve compression that causes your headaches. Call Pacific Pain Physicians or make an appointment online today.

Occipital Neuralgia Q & A


What is occipital neuralgia?

Occipital neuralgia is a specific type of headache caused by nerve compression in your upper neck. It produces sharp pain and electric-shock sensations in your upper neck and the back of your head. In some cases, you may have pain behind your ears, forehead, or eyes.

Occipital neuralgia pain usually begins in your neck, then spreads upward over the back of your head. You may find that your scalp is sensitive to touch or that bright lights bother you. The symptoms occur in areas supplied by your greater and lesser occipital nerves. 

What causes occipital neuralgia?

Occipital neuralgia stems from occipital nerve injury or irritation. A variety of factors can compress or irritate your occipital nerve, including:

  • A blow or trauma to the back of your head
  • Tight neck muscles
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Tumors
  • Spinal lesions
  • Infection
  • Diabetes
  • Blood vessel inflammation

Another common cause of occipital nerve compression is keeping your head in a downward and forward position for an extended period of time. Occipital neuralgia diagnoses are increasing as the average American spends over four hours a day looking down at their phone.

How is occipital neuralgia diagnosed?

Pacific Pain Physicians provides comprehensive physical exams to identify the cause of your headaches and neck pain. In addition to discussing your symptoms and medical history, your doctor will put pressure on the occipital nerve to gauge your response. They may also inject a local anesthetic into your occipital nerve. If the injection relieves your pain, your doctor confirms that your symptoms are caused by occipital nerve compression.

How is occipital neuralgia treated?

Pacific Pain Physicians begins treatment for occipital neuralgia with conservative treatments, including warm compresses, massage, and physical therapy to relieve muscle tension and spasm in your neck. They may also prescribe anti-inflammatory medications and muscle relaxers to reduce your pain.

However, if necessary, your provider may recommend more invasive treatments, such as occipital nerve blocks, C2 nerve root blocks, and spinal cord stimulation. Nerve blocks and spinal cord stimulation disrupt the pain messages that travel between your body and the pain centers in your brain.

If you suffer from severe headaches and upper neck pain, call Pacific Pain Physicians or schedule a consultation online for expert diagnosis and customized treatments to relieve your pain.