What is Occipital Neuralgia?

BY:Wyatt Redd

One of the worst things about fibromyalgia, besides the chronic pain and fatigue, has to be the way that people who suffer from fibromyalgia are at risk of so many other conditions like autoimmune diseases and especially, chronic headaches.

It’s estimated that up to forty percent of people with fibromyalgia suffer from migraines or some other form of a persistent headache. But like fibromyalgia, it’s hard to get to the bottom of what’s causing your headaches. And like fibromyalgia, migraines are often misdiagnosed. In fact, some people who suffer from persistent headaches aren’t actually suffering from migraines, but from a related condition called occipital neuralgia. So, what is occipital neuralgia? How is it related to fibromyalgia? And what can you do to treat it?

What Is Occipital Neuralgia?

Occipital neuralgia is a condition that causes chronic pain in the base of the skull. People often describe it as being like an electrical shock or even similar to being stabbed in the muscle. The pain usually radiates from the back of the head down the neck and up the sides of the head or behind the eye.

The root of the condition lies in the occipital nerves. These are nerves that run from the back of the neck and the spine up through the sides of the head to the scalp. But sometimes, injuries or inflammation of the muscles in the spine cause the tissue to start pressing on these nerves. This leads to a condition called neuralgia, where the nerves begin to send pain signals to the brain.

That produces the symptoms that are similar to migraines, which makes it difficult to diagnose the condition. Doctors can diagnose the condition by performing a physical exam, pressing their finger into the base of the skull to see if your pain gets worse. In addition, they can also give you something called a nerve block, which shuts off the interaction between the nerves, which can help prove that it’s neuralgia rather than migraines.

But there are many different conditions that can lead to neuropathy, which is why it might affect people with fibromyalgia more frequently than the general population.

How Is It Related To Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia puts you at risk of a number of different conditions and some of them are also contributing factors to neuralgia. For instance, diabetes is a common complaint of people with fibromyalgia. And the nerve pain from diabetes can contribute significantly to the risk of developing occipital neuralgia.

In addition, we know that having fibromyalgia makes you more likely to develop autoimmune conditions. An autoimmune condition is one where the body’s immune system begins to attack the body’s own tissue. This results in painful inflammation all over the body. And a common autoimmune condition is something called arteritis. Arteritis causes inflammation in the walls of the blood vessels. This inflammation can put pressure on the occipital nerves and can be a root cause of neuralgia.

And fibromyalgia also seems to affect the nerves themselves. Fibromyalgia seems to trigger your nerves to send pain signals to the brain. And it could be that the same nerve connections can contribute to the symptoms of occipital neuralgia.

So, there are a lot of different possible reasons that fibromyalgia could contribute to the condition, but what you probably want to know if you suffer from it is what you can do to treat it.

How Can You Treat It?

There are a few things you can do to immediately provide some relief. The best thing to do is to get some rest. Moving your neck can make the pain worse. Instead, lay down and apply a warm compress to the back of the neck. And massaging the muscles of the neck can help, as can basic, over-the-counter pain medication.

Your doctor can also prescribe a number of medications that can help with the symptoms. Your doctor might prescribe muscle relaxants to help ease the overly-tight muscles that are pressing on the nerves. And they can also prescribe steroid shots that help reduce inflammation of the tissue.

In addition, the doctor can give you regular nerve block injections. These nerve blocks tend to wear off after a week or two, so you will probably need a number of treatments to help control the symptoms.

Combined with rest and warm compresses, these medications are usually enough to help resolve the worst symptoms of the condition.

So, do you suffer from neuralgia? Do you think it’s related to your fibromyalgia? Let us know in the comments.

This is republished article. Originally this article was published by http://www.fibromyalgiatreating.com

Occipital Neuralgia

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.


Occipital neuralgia can cause intense pain that feels like a sharp, jabbing, electric shock in the back of the head and neck. Other symptoms include:

  • Aching, burning, and throbbing pain that typically starts at the base of the head and goes to the scalp
  • Pain on one or both sides of the head
  • Pain behind the eye
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Tender scalp
  • Pain when you move your neck


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:

  • Trauma to the back of the head
  • Neck tension or tight neck muscles
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Tumors in the neck
  • Cervical disc disease
  • Infection
  • Gout
  • Diabetes
  • Blood vessel inflammation

How It’s Diagnosed

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.


The first thing you’ll want to do is to relieve your pain. You can try to:

  • Apply heat to your neck.
  • Rest in a quiet room.
  • Massage tight and painful neck muscles.
  • Take over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs, like naproxen or ibuprofen.

If those don’t help, your doctor may prescribe medications for you, including:

  • Prescription muscle relaxants
  • Antiseizure drugs, such as carbamazepine (Tegretol) and gabapentin(Neurontin)
  • Antidepressants
  • Nerve blocks and steroid shots. The nerve block that your doctor might do to diagnose your condition can be a short-term treatment, too. It may take two to three shots over several weeks to get control of your pain. It’s not uncommon for the problem to return at some point and to need another series of injections.

An operation is rare, but it might be an option if your pain doesn’t get better with other treatments or comes back. Surgery may include:

  • Microvascular decompression. Your doctor may be able to relieve pain by finding and adjusting blood vessels that may be compressing your nerve.
  • Occipital nerve stimulation. Your doctor uses a device called a neurostimulator to deliver electrical pulses to your occipital nerves. They can help block pain messages to the brain.

Occipital neuralgia is not a life-threatening condition. Most people get good pain relief by resting and taking medication. But if you still hurt, tell your doctor. She’ll want to see if there’s another problem that’s causing your pain.


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