The greater occipital nerve is responsible for most of the sensation in the back and top of the head. Irritation or inflammation of the greater occipital nerve can cause debilitating headaches. Patients with occipital nerve irritation often report pain starting from the base of the skull on one side of the head. The pain may extend to the temple, forehead, and behind the eyes.
An occipital nerve block is one of the most common procedures used to provide pain relief from migraines and chronic headaches. During a nerve block, pain-relieving medicine is injected into the area where the greater occipital nerve crosses the skull. Typically, the patient is lying on his or her stomach. The needle is then placed near the nerve and an anesthetic, or a combination of an anesthetic and steroid, is injected. Patients may report immediate pain relief due to the activity of the anesthetic. Once the steroid takes effect, within a matter of two or three days, long-lasting pain relief may be experienced for up to several months.
Occipital nerve blocks are effective in treating a variety of conditions including:
Migraines: Migraines are a neurological condition that causes intense headaches on one side of the head. Patients commonly experience nausea, dizziness, and mood changes.
Cluster headaches: Cluster headaches are a short, but painful series of recurring headaches.
Spondylosis of the cervical facet joints: Also referred to as osteoarthritis of the joints in the neck, spondylosis of the cervical facet joints is caused by age-related breakdown of the neck bones and discs.
Occipital neuralgia: Occipital neuralgia is a headache disorder that causes shooting pain in the back of the head, one side of the neck, and behind the ears. Pain is caused by damage to the greater and lesser occipital nerves.