Occipital neuralgia is a distinct type of headache characterized by piercing, throbbing, or electric-shock-like chronic pain in the upper neck, back of the head, and behind the ears, usually on one side of the head.
Typically, the pain of occipital neuralgia begins in the neck and then spreads upwards. Some individuals will also experience pain in the scalp, forehead, and behind the eyes. Their scalp may also be tender to the touch, and their eyes especially sensitive to light.
The location of pain is related to the areas supplied by the greater and lesser occipital nerves, which run from the area where the spinal column meets the neck, up to the scalp at the back of the head.
The pain is caused by:
In many cases, however, no cause can be found.
Relief from pain after an anesthetic nerve block will confirm the diagnosis.
Occipital neuralgia is not a life-threatening condition. Recovery is usually complete after the bout of pain has ended and the nerve damage repaired or lessened.
Treatment is generally symptomatic. Many individuals will improve with therapy involving heat, rest, anti-inflammatory medications, and muscle relaxants. In some cases, antidepressants may be used when the pain is particularly severe. Other treatments may include local nerve blocks and injections of steroids directly into the affected area.