Treatments We Provide

Occipital Nerve Block

Occipital Nerve Block - APSM

What is an Occipital Nerve Block?

  Your greater occipital nerve originates in the second and third vertebrae in your neck, which brings sensation to the back and top of your head. When this nerve is compressed or injured, pain can stretch from the back of your head to the sides and even around the eyes. One of the major causes of migraines and chronic headaches can be due to damage to the occipital nerve. An occipital nerve block uses an anesthetic and corticosteroid to numb the greater and lesser occipital nerves. The anesthetic relieves pain, and the corticosteroid reduces inflammation. Occipital nerve blocks can also be a helpful diagnostic tool. If a block does not relieve head pain, then your doctor will know to search for other possible causes of your head pain.  

Why is an Occipital Nerve Block performed?

  The two main conditions that occipital nerve blocks are usually used to treat are occipital neuralgia and cervicogenic headache. Occipital neuralgia is a condition that usually follows trauma to the nerves in the back of the head, such as a blow to the head, and is felt across the occipital nerve area. Occipital nerve blocks can reduce pain scores for six months after treatment for some patients. Cervicogenic headaches may begin to build over time and are not necessarily a result of trauma. There are many reasons a person may have a cervicogenic headache. Some may have spondylosis, while others may have damage in the actual cervical facet joint. Some patients who received an occipital nerve block found that they took less pain medications, their headaches didn’t last as long and were fewer, they didn’t have as much nausea, vomiting, photophobia, and phonophobia, and their appetites increased. They basically had a better quality of life and were able to resume previous activities. If you do not already have a diagnosis for your acute or chronic head pain, an occipital nerve block can help. If your pain symptoms improve after the injection, this means that the occipital nerve is the source of your pain. The results of the block vary from patient to patient. Some patients may only need one injection, while others may need additional injections or treatments.  

How is an Occipital Nerve Block performed?

  The occipital nerve block procedure is a minimally invasive injection that is performed on an outpatient basis. A local anesthetic is injected first to minimize discomfort. Then an injection containing additional anesthetic with a corticosteroid is injected into the occipital nerves to control the pain and inflammation in the nerve.  You may feel pain relief immediately, but it may take a few days to feel the full effects.  

What should I expect after an Occipital Nerve Block?

  The most common side effect with nerve blocks is pain where the needle was inserted, that comes after the local anesthetic wears off. This is temporary and typically mild. Another possible side effect is bleeding, as the scalp has very thin skin with many tiny blood vessels near the surface. Any puncture can result in bleeding, but this is common, easily stopped, and temporary, and can be significantly reduced if ice is placed at the injection site immediately after the procedure. Less common risks involve excessive bleeding, infection, and nerve damage. Recovery is fast and generally pain free. Return to regular activity as pain levels allow, or when your doctor okays it.

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Common Conditions We Treat