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Occipital Nerve Blocks for Headaches

Chronic headaches are unfortunately, very prevalent. It is estimated that 5% of the world’s population is affected by some form of chronic head pain. While there are various forms of treatment for chronic headaches, occipital nerve blocks are an excellent option for chronic headache sufferers who have not found relief with first line therapies.

Occipital nerve blocks are minimally invasive procedures available to those with moderate to severe chronic neuralgia (nerve pain), or other type of headache associated with the occipital nerve. Often these types of headaches start at the back of the head near the neck and then radiate outward throughout the skull. Occipital nerve blocks work by inhibiting or blocking the overproduction of pain signals that are sent to the brain from the occipital nerve. Pain relief from occipital nerve blocks can last up to several months.

Who are Good Candidates for Occipital Nerve Blocks?

Chronic headache sufferers that have failed to find sustained relief with oral medication or other first line therapies often find themselves at OmniSpine and Pain Management for occipital nerve blocks. Headaches that originate in the occipital nerve are often associated with throbbing pain, sharper types of pain, pain that appears to reverberate through the skull, and with headaches that are perceived as a burning pain. Occipital nerve blocks are also often recommended for those whose pain is associated with head trauma.

Good candidates for occipital nerve blocks typically suffer from the following types of headaches:

  • Chronic and episodic migraines
  • Chronic and episodic cluster headaches
  • Tension-type headaches
  • Occipital neuralgia

However, not all individuals with chronic headaches are good candidates for occipital nerve blocks. Those who should avoid occipital nerve block procedures include those who are allergic to any of the medications to be injected, on a blood thinning medication, have an active infection, or have poorly controlled diabetes or heart disease.

The Procedure

Occipital nerve blocks are safe, effective and easily performed in a doctor’s office or outpatient center. They are done with minimal invasion and only take a few minutes to perform. General sedation is often not needed.

  • First, the area to be injected is cleaned in a sterile fashion.
  • Once the area is cleaned, a local anesthetic is applied to the skin above the occipital nerve.
  • A small, fine needle is then gently inserted until it is in an appropriate position near the nerve.
  • Once in place, a steroid medication is injected. Steroids reduce inflammation and block the transmission of painful signals to the brain, thereby inhibiting the sensation of head pain.

Numbness on the side of the head being treated is often a sign that an occipital nerve block has been successful. Once the procedure is complete, a brief period of recovery at the clinic or office is recommend. During this time, pain relief may already become apparent but onset of pain relief can vary from minutes to a few days. Duration of the pain relief, however, often lasts for months and if the pain recurs, a repeat treatment may be performed. Occasionally, two injections, one right after the other may be required to produce an optimal effect.

*Individual Result May Vary*