Occipital neuralgia is a clinical condition characterized by painful nerves at the back of the head and neck.
Occipital neuralgia is a clinical condition characterized by painful nerves at the back of the head and neck. Here we discuss this condition in a bit more detail.
Within our vertebral column lies the spinal cord. The spinal cord gives rise to a number of nerves that supply different parts of the body. Some of these nerves travel up the back of the neck all the way to the back of the head and supply the scalp. These nerves are called the occipital nerves and pain arising from these nerves is called occipital neuralgia.
In most cases, the exact cause may not be identified. Pain can occur suddenly and can cause tremendous amounts of distress to the patients. In some cases, the pain arises due to pinching of the occipital nerves as they emerge from the spinal cord. This can occur due to arthritis affecting the vertebral column. Another cause can be that the muscles that support and protect the vertebral column can become rather taut and tense, pinching the occipital nerves. Other common causes may include injury to the back of the neck, diseases of the intervertebral disc, diabetes mellitus and gout.
The most common symptom is pain of the scalp at the back of the head. Typically, patients report the pain being either a burning sensation or a rather severe ache. Pain can occur on one or both sides of the head. Additional associated symptoms such as sensitivity to light and pain at the back of the eye may occur. Head movements may be restricted by pain. Upon examination of the patient, doctors may find that they have a rather tender scalp at the back of the head. However, this tenderness may extend across the entire scalp as well.
In most cases the diagnosis is made from history and clinical examination. Sometimes scans such as an MRI may need to be performed. Another way of diagnosing occipital neuralgia is by blocking the conduction of nerve impulses along the occipital nerve using certain drug injections and seeing if the symptoms resolve. This is called occipital nerve block, and it can be offered as a treatment as well.
The treatment options offered by the physician depends primarily on the cause of the pain. Below are some of the potential treatment options available.