Occipital Nerve Block: Procedure, Uses and Side Effects

What Is Occipital Nerve Block?

The occipital nerve is responsible for the sensation in the back and top of the head. If occipital nerve gets irritated, it can cause pain in the base of the skull and one side of the head. This pain may extend to as far as the temples, forehead and behind the eyes.

The occipital nerve block is a common procedure to prevent migraines and other common headaches.

The occipital nerve block procedure involves injecting pain-relieving medications and steroids into the greater and lesser occipital nerves.

Procedure: How is Occipital Nerve Block Done?

The occipital nerve block is a procedure done to treat migraines and headaches.

During the occipital nerve block procedure, the patient is made to lie down on the table with a face downward.

Anesthesia is applied to the back of the head just above the neck. Then a fine needle is inserted until it reaches the occipital nerve. The pain-relieving medications bring an improvement in pain in as little as 15 minutes.

The occipital nerve block procedure takes a couple of minutes to complete. The patient cannot drive the same day and needs to be accompanied by another person to get back home. Patient can get back to normal activities the next day.

The amount of time the effect of occipital nerve block procedure stays varies from person to person. However, it can cause relief from pain for months in some patients.

Uses Of Occipital Nerve Block

The occipital nerve block is used for the treatment of the following conditions:

Migraines: Migraine is a neurological condition that leads to an intense headache on one side of the head. Pain in the head is accompanied by nausea, dizziness, and mood changes. A study done to look at the effectiveness of occipital nerve block reported moderate or significant relief from pain after the treatment.(2)

It is also found to significantly reduce the intensity of pain in people with migraines.(3)

Cluster Headaches: Cluster headache is a short but painful recurring headache. People suffering from it tend to get it seasonally. The occipital nerve block is found effective in treating it.(4)

A study found that those suffering from cluster headache underwent an occipital nerve block every 3 months found a significant improvement in the symptoms.(5)

Spondylosis Of Cervical Facet Joints: It is an age-related breakdown of neck bones and discs. The symptoms can be alleviated with occipital nerve block procedure.

Occipital Neuralgia: Occipital neuralgia is a headache that leads to shooting pain in the back of the head, one side of the neck and behind the ear. The pain in this condition occurs due to damage to the greater and lesser occipital nerve.

According to a study done in 2018 occipital nerve block is also found effective in treating occipital neuralgia. After a 6 months treatment, more than 95 percent of participants were found satisfied with their pain reduction.(6)

Side Effects Of Occipital Nerve Block

Like any other medical procedure, there are few risks associated with an occipital nerve block, the most common side effect being pain and irritation at the injection site.

Other Side Effects Of Occipital Nerve Block Are As Follows:

  • Allergic reactions
  • Infection
  • No change in symptoms
  • Dizziness
  • Bleeding at the site of injection
  • Numbness
  • Light-headedness
  • Increase in the intensity of headache(1)
  • Risk of nerve damage

The chances of side effects are very rare. There are certain people who have more chances of diabetes. It is therefore important to talk to the healthcare provider for the alternative pain management techniques in case of the following conditions:

  • Diabetes
  • Steroid allergy
  • Heart condition
  • Taking blood-thinning drugs
  • If suffering from an infection

The occipital nerve block is a safe and effective method to treat headaches and migranes. If suffering from head pain, consult a healthcare provider to get a proper diagnosis and the best treatment.

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