The World Health Organization states that almost half of adult Americans will experience headaches at some point during their lives, making headaches one of the most common medical complaints. Headaches can be attributed to injury but can also be a result of underlying medical conditions. Headaches are often described as a dull, throbbing, unrelenting pain arising from the head or upper neck. Although headache pain is common, types of headaches are often difficult to diagnose because the brain itself has no nerves that give rise to the sensation of pain. There is a very thin layer of tissue surrounding the bones and muscles that encase the skull as well as a thin layer protecting the spinal cord and brain. The nerves within these tissue layers are susceptible to inflammation and irritation which are responsible for headache pain.

Two common diagnoses for painful headaches are Occipital Neuralgia and Cervicogenic Headaches. Occipital Neuralgia is a medical condition in which nerves surrounding the spinal cord and the scalp, the occipital nerves, become inflamed and irritated. Occipital Neuralgia can cause excruciating pain at the base of the neck that travels to the scalp. Symptoms of Occipital Neuralgia include;

  • Pain behind the eyes
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Tender scalp
  • Pain on one or both sides of your head
  • Aching and burning pain that begins at the base of the neck
  • Sensitivity to loud sounds
  • Blurred vision
  • Nausea or vomiting

Cervicogenic Headaches often mimic migraines although they are very different. Cervicogenic Headaches are typically rooted in the base of the skull or in the cervical region. These headaches differ from migraines because the symptoms are caused by problems with nerves, bones, or muscles in the neck region. Cervicogenic headaches are usually the culprit when an individual suffers from degenerative conditions such as osteoarthritis or if one suffers from a slipped disc or injury. Symptoms of Cervicogenic Headaches may include;

  • Pain during certain neck movements
  • Pain behind the eyes
  • Pain from certain neck posture
  • Pain in one or both sides of your head
  • Stiff neck
  • Head pain when you cough, sneeze, or take a deep breath
  • Blurred vision
  • Upset stomach or nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sensitivity to loud sounds

There are numerous treatment options for Occipital Neuralgia and Cervicogenic Headaches to help alleviate stubborn pain. Two non-surgical options we offer are Occipital Nerve Blocks and Cervical Rhizotomies.  Occipital Nerve Blocks and Cervical Rhizotomies have shown a 95% decrease in patients’ headache pain with results lasting up to six months!

Prior the procedures, the provider may order imaging including X-Rays, CT scans, or MRIs to confirm the source of the headaches. This will determine a patient’s candidacy for Occipital Nerve Blocks and Cervical Rhizotomy. Once the source of headache pain has been determined through radiologic imaging, the procedures may be scheduled.

Both procedures are quick, in-office, procedures that last about 30 minutes and require minimal sedation.  During the Occipital Nerve Block the provider administers a compounded injection which consists of a local anesthetic and a steroid medication to the base of the skull, the area that encases the Occipital Nerves. Thus, the medication coats the painful occipital nerves, alleviating any swelling and inflammation in occipital area. If a patient’s results are positive, the Occipital Nerve Block can be repeated safely until the individuals are pain-free!

Cervical Rhizotomy differs from Occipital Nerve Blocks. Cervical Rhizotomy is conducted with fluoroscope, X-ray, guidance to locate the painful nerve and properly position the needle into the painful nerve. Once the painful nerve in the cervical region has been detected, a wire is then placed allowing the radiofrequency electricity to pass through to the nerve to begin the cauterization process. The cauterization of the cervical nerves promotes improvement and elimination of headache pain.

If you would like to try some home remedies along with your pain management treatment to lessen the severity of symptoms resulting from Occipital Neuralgia and Cervicogenic Headaches, here are a few ideas that may help:

  • Apply heat or ice to your neck
  • Rest in a quiet room
  • Massage neck muscles
  • Apply Peppermint oil to the affected area
  • Consume more ginger-it contains a natural anti-inflammatory
  • Increase your water intake
  • Acupressure-apply pressure to specific areas on your hands
  • Exercise daily -this reduces the frequency of headaches
  • Take suggested over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Stretch
  • Focus on your posture

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