Headaches in the Back of Your Head: What to Do About Occipital Pain

Rahul Sood, D.O.

Headaches are a common problem. But did you know they aren’t all the same? There are actually more than 150 different types of headaches, and they each have different causes and triggers. This variety is one of the main reasons why there isn’t a one-size-fits-all treatment for headache pain, and why an accurate diagnosis plays a crucial role in finding relief.

Our team at Metro Pain Centers understands the complexity involved in treating headache conditions, especially those involving the occipital nerves. Here’s what sets these headaches apart and how we can help.

Understanding occipital headaches

Occipital headaches are also known as occipital neuralgia. While this condition causes pain in the head, the problem actually originates from a pair of nerves in your neck that run through your scalp on each side of your head. When these nerves — the occipital nerves — become inflamed, irritated, or damaged, they can trigger intense pain and discomfort. 

Unlike other headache conditions, occipital headaches typically cause a specific type of pain in certain areas, for example:

  • Aching, throbbing, or stabbing pain where the back of your head meets your neck
  • Pain that radiates into one side of your head or down your neck and back
  • Pain behind the eye or ears
  • Increased scalp sensitivity
  • Sensitivity to light or touch

For some, these symptoms come and go, but they can also last for several minutes at a time and often worsen with the slightest movement.

Identifying the cause of occipital neuralgia

The first step in finding relief for occipital headaches involves identifying what’s causing your symptoms. Several factors can lead to inflammation, irritation, or occipital nerve damage, especially neck injuries, like whiplash, or tight muscles in the neck or back of the head.

You can also experience occipital neuralgia because of other medical problems, such as:

  • Diabetes
  • Gout 
  • Degenerative disc disease
  • Pinched nerve
  • Osteoarthritis in the neck
  • Blood vessel inflammation
  • Infection
  • Tumor

In some cases, you can also develop occipital headaches with no apparent cause.

Our team works to determine what’s to blame for your symptoms by performing a physical exam, reviewing your symptoms, and doing imaging tests, like MRIs or CT scans. Sometimes, we also inject a nerve block in the affected area to confirm our diagnosis. Occipital nerve blocks deliver anesthetic drugs directly into the site with inflammation.

Finding relief for occipital headaches

We offer numerous solutions to manage occipital neuralgia symptoms. Based on your symptoms, we could recommend a combination of therapies, such as:

  • Warm compresses
  • Massage or physical therapy
  • Medications like anti-inflammatory or antiseizure drugs, muscle relaxers, or antidepressants
  • Occipital nerve blocks 

For severe or persistent occipital nerve pain, we also offer occipital nerve stimulation. This innovative approach involves a minimally invasive procedure to implant electrodes underneath your skin near the occipital nerves. 

When activated, the implanted occipital nerve device delivers mild electrical impulses that disrupt the pain signals sent to your brain by the nerve. This process is known as neuromodulation and eases pain signals by altering the messages your brain receives.

Do you have occipital headaches? We can help. Contact one of our Metro Pain Centers offices in New Jersey or New York by phone or book an appointment online today.

Rahul Sood, D.O.

Rahul Sood, D.O.

About Rahul Sood, D.O.

As a board-certified anesthesiologist and doctor of osteopathy, Rahul Sood, DO, is an integral part of the team at Metro Pain Centers. He is also a specialist in venous medicine with an extensive history and experience in treating lower extremity spider and varicose veins. He practices from the offices in Clifton, Middletown, Riverdale, Edison, and Jersey City, New Jersey; and Staten Island and Ardsley, New York.

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