Overview of occipital neuralgia:
There are dual nerves that course from the peak of the spinal cord at the base of the neck and then up through the scalp. These nerves are known as occipital nerves. Occipital neuralgia is a cerebral disorder which results from the compression, inflammation or irritation of any one of these occipital nerves. Occipital neuralgia is a widespread cause of headaches and it is often confused with migraines. Occipital neuralgia instigates pain between the head and the scalp and is also accompanied with throbbing, tingling, numbness, muscle weakness and potential nerve and muscle damage in the back of the neck.
Symptoms of occipital neuralgia:
Damage and dysfunction of the occipital nerves situated at the back of the neck is the origin of intense pain and other underlying symptoms which show a discrepancy in their intensity in different individuals’ some of which are as follows:
• Lack of any sensation or loss of function in the hind of your neck, head or scalp
• Sensitivity to light and touch
• Shooting, zapping or electric pain on one side of the scalp
• Intense pain, throbbing or burning sensations experienced which initiates at the base of the skull and then radiates towards the posterior or lateral scalp
• Pain behind one eye at the site of the affected occipital nerve
• Movement of the neck can instigate severe pain in some patients
• Tender scalp
Causes of occipital neuralgia:
Occipital neuralgia is instigated by a number of factors but the most widespread cause of occipital neuralgia is trauma to the head. Other factors include wound to the neck such as whiplash which may be the consequence of damage to the occipital region resulting in the irritation of the occipital nerves and severe pain. Squeezing or entrapment of the nerve root in the neck, taut muscles, tumors and some spine problems are also the leading factors becoming the basis of occipital neuralgia. Diabetes and gout are also sometimes held the contributing causes for this common disorder.
The risk factors instigating occipital neuralgia:
There are few specific contending aspects that increase the likelihood of development of occipital neuralgia and these are:
• Exposure to chemicals
• Muscles and nerves in the back of the head becoming inflamed or infected
• Continual pressure exerted on the muscles and nerves in the back of the head
• Osteoarthritis of the spine
Diagnosing occipital neuralgia:
The doctor may perform a comprehensive physical examination and may ask certain tests to be carried out like MRI or blood test. The doctor may also inject an anesthetic nerve block under the skin near the occipital nerves to impede the pain. If it successfully relieves the pain, then occipital neuralgia is established. It is very crucial that accurate diagnosis of occipital neuralgia is made because the success of the treatment will be determined by the precision of the diagnosis.
Occipital neuralgia treatments:
There are various treatments options available which can alleviate the pain and discomfort associated with occipital neuralgia some of which are listed below:
For mild occipital neuralgia pain, the doctor may prescribe over the counter medications like acetaminophen (Tylenol), aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen (Aleve).
For intense and persistent occipital neuralgia pain, the doctor may prescribe medications which include:
• Prescription muscle relaxants
• Anticonvulsant drugs like Tegretol (carbamazepine) and Neurontin (gabapentin)
• Antidepressant medications such as amitriptyline (Elavil), nortriptyline (Pamelor) and duloxetine (Cymbalta)
• anti-inflammatory medications
You can even try to get relieve from the pain of occipital neuralgia by following these simple guidelines:
• Application of heat on the neck or the site of pain
• Resting in a quiet dark room
• Alleviating the pain by massaging the taut and throbbing muscles of the neck
• Taking the assistance of complementary occipital neuralgia treatments like acupuncture, yoga, physical therapy and massage therapy
In many cases, these occipital neuralgia treatments are blended to provide complete or partial pain alleviation but if the pain still seems to persevere, the doctor may opt to maintain treatment sessions of the nerve roots at the occipital region or the occipital nerves themselves through percutaneous nerve blocks. The local anesthetic is merged with an anti-inflammatory steroid and injected beneath the skin near the occipital nerves. But the effectiveness of this technique is determined by repetitive injections of the nerve blocks and this occipital neuralgia treatment can exhibit side effects like fluid retention, weakness of the muscle and sporadic hypertension.
The doctor may opt for surgical occipital neuralgia treatment if the condition becomes severe or chronic. Surgery alternatives include:
Micro vascular decompression: the pain is relieved by ascertaining and adjusting the blood vessels that may be constricting the occipital nerves.
Occipital nerve stimulation: in this surgical procedure, a neurostimulator is applied to transmit nerve impulses to the occipital nerves. These electrical impulses can help in impeding the pain messages that are reaching the brain.
Occipital neuralgia is not a devastating or life-threatening condition. Most people can improve their quality of life through taking pain medications and through complementary occipital neuralgia treatments.