Occipital neuralgia is a condition in which the nerves that run from the top of the spinal cord up through the scalp, called the occipital nerves, are inflamed or injured. You might feel pain in the back of your head or the base of your skull.
People can confuse it with a migraine or other types of headache, because the symptoms can be similar. But treatments for those conditions are very different, so it’s important to see your doctor to get the right diagnosis.
When you’ve had the throbbing pain of a migraine, you want to do what you can to avoid another one.
If you get these headaches often or have severe ones, avoid the things that you know set them off, called triggers, like specific foods, smells, and alcohol, for example.
You might be able to keep migraines away with a couple other tactics, too:
Use preventive medications or devices.
Make lifestyle changes.
Occipital neuralgia happens when there’s pressure or irritation to your occipital nerves, maybe because of an injury, tight muscles that entrap the nerves, or inflammation. Many times, doctors can’t find a cause for it.
Some medical conditions are linked to it, including:
Your doctor will ask you questions about your medical history and about any injuries you’ve had. She'll do a physical exam, too. She’ll press firmly around the back of your head to see if she can reproduce your pain.
She may also give you a shot to numb the nerve, called a nerve block, to see if it gives you relief. If it works, occipital neuralgia is likely the cause of the pain. You might also have blood tests or an MRI scan if your doctor thinks your case isn’t typical.
You have to get the right diagnosis to get the right treatment. For example, if you have occipital neuralgia and you get a prescription for migrainemedication, you may not get relief.