Occipital nerve blocks are used to prevent pain signals from the occipital nerve from reaching the rest of the brain. The occipital nerves are located between the first and second cervical vertebrae and may contribute to headaches when irritated. Medication is injected into the region where the occipital nerve crosses the skull. This type of nerve block can be used to provide pain relief or as a diagnostic tool.
One important difference between an occipital nerve block and other forms of nerve blocks is that an occipital nerve block does not become a regular addition to your treatment regimen. Healthcare professionals will not do more than three occipital nerve blocks within six months regardless of any improvement or worsening of your symptoms, as this can increase the chance of severe side effects. If you do not experience pain relief following your second or third occipital nerve block, there are other treatment options available. Your doctor will further discuss the next steps when and if you reach this stage.
Tender or painful scalp
Some migraines and cluster headaches
Spondylosis of the cervical facet joints
Pain affecting one side or the back of the head
Researchers are currently studying the effectiveness of occipital nerve blocks for migraines and cluster headaches. A 2018 study demonstrated nerve blocks can reduce the intensity of acute migraines. Studies are still ongoing to determine the effectiveness of this nerve block on various types of migraines and cluster headaches.
Occipital nerve blocks alleviate chronic headaches without long rehabilitation and recovery periods.
Before your nerve block, your doctor will tell you if you need to stop taking medications such as blood thinners or immunosuppressant medication to reduce your risk of complications. Those on blood thinners or who have poorly controlled heart disease or diabetes are not candidates for occipital nerve blocks. If you have an infection of any form, you should reschedule your injections until it has dissipated.
During the nerve block, you’ll be asked to lay on your stomach. The healthcare professional performing the procedure will apply an anesthetic to the back of your head just above your neck before inserting a needle into the injection site until reaching the occipital nerve where they’ll inject the medication. The procedure takes only a few minutes, and you may experience numbness at the injection site as the medication takes effect.
Following your procedure, you may experience some form of pain relief within 15 minutes, but the medication can take a few days to take full effect. You may experience pain around the injection site, but this will dissipate within a few days. Pain relief can last a few weeks to a few months.
While you should be able to drive home, medical professionals recommend having someone else drive you home. Your doctor will discuss when you can resume your normal medication schedule. Following the procedure, you should
While this procedure is safe, every procedure comes with a rare chance for complications. Your doctor has decided the benefits of this procedure outweigh the risk. Possible risks include:
Allergic reaction to the medication
Bleeding, bruising, or infection at the injection site