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Occipital Nerve Blocks

Colorado Chronic Headache Treatments

Chronic headaches affect around 5% of the global population. The occipital nerve block is a simple office procedure that is used to treat and control chronic head pain.

What types of headaches are treated using the occipital nerve block?

Occipital nerve blocks have shown effectiveness with many types of headaches. Throbbing pain, sharp pain, and burning pain all respond to the occipital nerve block. Pain of this nature is often associated with the occipital nerves. The occipital nerve block can treat:

  • Episodic migraine
  • Chronic migraine
  • Tension-type headaches
  • Chronic cluster headaches
  • Occipital neuralgia

How does the occipital nerve block work?

Occipital neuralgia is associated with dysfunction or damage of the occipital nerves, which are located along the back portion of the head. The occipital nerve block can help control the pain at the posterior scalp, which stops it from radiating throughout the skull. The block stops/inhibits the disproportionate and chronic pain signals that are sent from the occipital nerves to the brain. The occipital nerve block offers long-term pain relief.

Do I need to prepare for the occipital nerve block?

You will first meet with the doctor who asks questions about your condition, takes a medical history, inquires about your medications, and asks about allergies. After a physical examination, the doctor may request more brain/head imaging scans. Once the doctor goes over the procedure risks and benefits with you, he has you sign a consent form. If you are taking any medications that thin the blood, you should hold them for 5-7 days before your procedure.

How is the occipital nerve block done?

The doctor will perform the occipital nerve block at the clinic. The doctor first cleans the back of the head using an antiseptic. The skin and tissues are numbed using an injectable local anesthetic, or a topical agent is used. Once numb, the doctor positions a fine needle into the scalp and positions it near the targeted nerve. There are four nerves that are blocked, so several injections are made. After the needle is removed, a small Band-Aid is applied.

When will I notice pain relief?

When an anesthetic is injected onto the nerves, pain relief may be immediate. Sometimes, the doctor injects a corticosteroid, which starts working in 2-5 days. The amount of pain relief varies from person to person.

What can I expect after the occipital nerve block?

Immediately after the injections, you will remain in the office for around 20 minutes. Expect some mild tenderness at the injection sites. The back of your scalp will be sore for 1-2 days. While rare, slight bruising and bleeding may occur. You are permitted to drive yourself home after the occipital nerve block. The block will not interfere with your normal routine and function. The full effects of these injections may not occur for several weeks.

Does the occipital nerve block work?

In a recent study involving patients with chronic cluster headaches, the efficacy rate was 72%, with almost half of the patient reporting complete pain relief. In addition, the occipital nerve block effects lasted for an average of 504 days. In another study, CT-guided greater occipital nerve block was done for patients with occipital neuralgia. The clinical success rate was 86%, and the pain relief duration was an average of 9 months.