FAQ’s on Occipital Nerve Block

Each patient has occipital nerves on either side of the neck, located primarily underneath the back of the skull.While these nerves provide no motor ability to the patient, they are responsible for providing sensation to the head.

When these nerves become inflamed, a patient may experience severe pain and episodic headaches. Complications with these nerves can also lead to stiffness of the neck, inhibiting the patient’s ability to move their head freely. Numbing these nerves with an occipital nerve block can help provide symptomatic relief to the patient while reducing both the severity and frequency of headaches.

What will an Occipital Nerve Block treat?

An occipital nerve block is primarily used to help patients experiencing chronic headaches related to complications with the occipital nerves.

The primary cause of complications in this area is occipital neuralgia, which will directly cause the headaches experienced. This block is useful for any patient who is suffering from these headaches, which can include migraines, cervicogenic headaches, and cluster headaches.

How is an Occipital Nerve Block performed?

Nerve blocks in this fashion are administered to numb the nerve in order to prevent the ability of it to send signals of pain to the brain. This nervous block is an easily performed outpatient procedure that can usually be performed inside the clinic itself. The injection site will first be sterilized, then numbed with a local anesthetic. This anesthetic is applied to the deepest layers of the occipital nerves to ensure the patient does not experience pain during the injection. Following this, the needle will be placed into the site where the skin was most tender prior to injection. A numbing agent will be injected in order to deaden the nerve, with a steroid injected alongside it to extend the duration of relief.

How well do Occipital Nerve Blocks work?

These blocks can be extremely beneficial for those who are suffering from episodic headaches caused by a complication with the occipital nerves. A large number of patients – over 95% for cervicogenic headaches and 85% for cluster headaches and migraines – are able to receive this treatment successfully, and gain upwards of six months pain free. Patients will also be able to repeat this procedure as necessary when the effects do begin to wear off.

What are the risks of an Occipital Nerve Block?

This is a very safe procedure for a patient to have, with very little risk present. As with any needle based treatment, there is a small chance of bleeding, infection, or pain at the injection site. There is also a risk of an allergic reaction to the medication used, but this is negated by a monitoring of the patient after the injection is done. There is a small chance of injury to the nerves present if the needle is positioned incorrectly. There is also risk of the needle going entirely through the occipital nerves, depositing the injected anesthetic into the spinal cavity resulting in other complications.

What is the bottom line with Occipital Nerve Blocks?

Simply put, this is a very effective and quite safe procedure for those patients who are experiencing chronic pain and headaches caused by the occipital nerves. Since this procedure can be repeated as needed, many patients will be able to obtain pain for an extended duration of time if the nerve complications cannot otherwise be treated.

The Next Step

Contrary to other nerve blocks, there is yet to be a reliable ablation technique developed for the occipital nerves. Ablation is the controlled destruction of one or more problematic nerves in an effort to provide permanent relief. There is research being made into this area however, meaning patients will likely have a permanent Pain Relief option available in the near future.