What is Occipital Neuralgia?

Occipital neuralgia is a condition in which the occipital nerves that run from the top of the spinal cord up through the scalp are inflamed or injured. Those with occipital neuralgia may feel a pain in the back of their head or at the base of their skull. Although occipital neuralgia is not life-threatening, the pain is intense and feels like a sharp, jabbing, electric shock. 

Occipital Neuralgia Symptoms

Now that we went over what is occipital neuralgia, we need to know how it differs from other conditions. Some people may confuse occipital neuralgia with a migraine or with other types of headaches as symptoms can be quite similar. It is important to recognize when you have occipital neuralgia or a different condition though as treatments for these conditions are not the same.

Occipital neuralgia symptoms include the following:

  • Pain on one or both sides of the head
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Tender scalp
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Vertigo
  • Blurry vision
  • Pain when you move your neck
  • Pain behind the eye
  • Vomiting
  • Dental pain
  • Tightness and pain in the neck
  • Slurred speech
  • Aching, burning and throbbing pain from base of the head to the scalp

If you are not sure you have occipital neuralgia or a different type of headache, consult a doctor to ensure you get the right diagnosis.

For those familiar with migraine symptoms, you might have realized occipital neuralgia can have symptoms that resemble severe migraines. Since occipital neuralgia can throw one off balance with dizziness and vertigo just as a migraine could, you may experience occipital neuralgia and nausea. If your balance and coordination issues are more severe when it comes to occipital neuralgia and nausea, you may experience vomiting in these cases.

As for the pain, this is the most characteristic symptom of occipital neuralgia and the most unbearable symptom for patients. Words used to describe occipital neuralgia pain in particular are the following: episodic, shocking, shooting, radiating, throbbing, spasms, sharp, stabbing, burning, aching, intense and piercing. For migraine sufferers, they may deal with a dull and aching pain that does not go away; however, when it comes to occipital neuralgia the pain is much more intense and usually lasts for a shorter amount of time.

The most common places someone with occipital neuralgia will experience pain will be:

  • Behind one eye
  • On the back of the head
  • Along the occipital nerves
  • At the base of the head where the neck meets the skull
  • One side of the head or both sides of the head

The pain for those who have occipital neuralgia will be different for everyone who has it. Some patients may feel pain for a few seconds or a few minutes. Others may experience more throbbing, dull pain, or tenderness on the sides of their head or forehead.

There are a few major differences between occipital neuralgia and migraines including the type of pain you have, location of your pain, vision symptoms and pain triggers. Occipital neuralgia pain is episodic, sharp and intense for a short amount of time as migraines can last much longer (hours) and usually dull and throbbing. The location of pain in occipital neuralgia that all patients experience is along the occipital nerves while this may or may not be the case for migraines. As for the vision symptoms, occipital neuralgia produces blurry vision or pain behind the eyes while a migraine or other headaches can cause eye watering and redness. For the pain triggers, migraines are often triggered by light, smells, stress and even food while occipital neuralgia most often occurs by turning and moving the head.

Occipital Neuralgia Causes

The most common cause of occipital neuralgia are pinched nerves at the root of a person’s neck. Considerable trauma or injury to the head or neck can damage these nerves including car accidents or other injuries where a person suffers whiplash. It can also be caused by muscles in a person’s neck that are too tight or chronic neck tension. Other occipital neuralgia causes are arthritis, diabetes, gout, blood vessel inflammation, tumors and infections.

Occipital Neuralgia Treatment

Occipital neuralgia is focused at the upper cervical area of the spine; this area refers to the neck region where the spine houses your brain stem where the brain can send messages to your body. In addition, this area is where all of your nerves are gathered. When this area is disrupted, it can cause many issues as your brain will no longer be able to communicate with the rest of your body at 100%. The occipital neuralgia comes from this region, so your best bet on getting occipital neuralgia fixed is to fix this area of your spine to release your pinched nerves and open up the brain’s communication to get back to a healthy functioning system.

Upper cervical adjustments are gentle and are an all-natural occipital neuralgia treatment. The goal for chiropractors is to not only alleviate the pain, but to correct the cause of the pain. Medications may help with the pain, but do nothing to correct the cause and invasive surgery removes muscle, tissue lining and blood vessels from the areas in which the nerves travel. Instead of removing muscle, tissue lining and blood vessels, upper cervical corrects your top two bones of your spine to free up your nerves and open up your blood vessels that are compressed – literally giving you relief without taking anything from the body.

The reason why upper cervical adjustments are recommended for the body over a surgery is so that if you have any other issue throughout your body, it could be corrected at the same time your occipital neuralgia is treated and upper cervical adjustments do not come with side effects. If surgery is a first option before getting adjusted to fix this delicate area, the dislocated upper cervical bones could end up becoming worse – affecting other parts of your body later on if they are never fixed. 

For upper cervical chiropractic occipital neuralgia treatment, there is no twisting, popping or pulling involved. Patients receive precise gentle corrections that are targeted at the cause of symptoms. After adjustments are made, the body can improve its functions and begin healing itself while taking away your inflammation, opening up your blood vessels and releasing your pinched nerves.