FAQ’s on Occipital Nerve Block
The occipital nerves are located beneath the rear of the skull, with the nerves located on each side of the neck. The occipital nerves are sensory nerves (providing no motor function to the head), but instead providing sensation to the surrounding tissues. For patients who are experiencing inflammation in one or more of the occipital nerves, severe pain and either chronic or episodic headaches are very likely to occur. Injured or inflamed occipital nerves may also result in neck stiffness, reducing a patient’s ability to move their head fully.
An occipital nerve block seeks to provide symptomatic relief for patients, helping to alleviate them of pain and to reduce both the frequency and severity of headaches. A nerve block is the administration of an anesthetic to the inflamed or sensitive nerves, numbing them to stop their transmission of pain signals to the brain. A study (Blocking the greater occipital nerve: utility in headache management, 2010) into the effectiveness of occipital nerve blocks has found them to be a very effective tool in providing relief to patients. Nearly 1 out of every 4 Americans will experience some degree of chronic or episodic headache during their life.
What will an Occipital Nerve Block treat?
Occipital nerve blocks are primarily given to assist patients who are experiencing symptomatic pain due to chronic headaches, caused in many patients by occipital neuralgia. An occipital nerve block is able to directly provide relief for symptoms due to occipital neuralgia, and was especially effective in the following multiple-subject case study (Ultrasound-guided greater occipital nerve blocks and pulsed radiofrequency ablation for diagnosis and treatment of occipital neuralgia, 2013).
Patients experiencing any complication related to the occipital nerves, including cervicogenic headaches, migraines, and cluster headaches may be able to achieve symptomatic relief by blocking their nerves. Occipital nerve blocks may also be a primary method of treatment for patients with chronic cluster headaches according to this prospective research (Greater occipital nerve blocks in chronic cluster headache: a prospective open-label study, 2013)
How is an Occipital Nerve Block performed?
Performed as a simple outpatient procedure using only local anesthetic for patients, an occipital nerve block is a very reliable treatment that can provide symptomatic pain relief. To begin, the site of injection will be sterilized then have anesthetic applied to it in preparation for injection. The anesthetic used will be applied to the deep layers of tissue to ensure the entirety of the occipital nerves can be numbed.
After the tissue has been numbed, an injection needle will be guided into the occipital nerves with fluoroscopic imaging for guidance. After proper placement of the needle has been established, a numbing agent will be injected into the occipital nerves alongside a steroidal supplement designed to provide a longer duration of relief.
How well does an Occipital Nerve Block work?
The success rate of an occipital nerve block is extremely high, with over 95% of cervicogenic headaches and 85% of cluster headaches receiving beneficial treatment from this injection. Patients can reliably expect upwards of six months of being symptom free, and are able to repeat the treatment as often as required to maintain their relief.
What are the risks of an Occipital Nerve Block?
This treatment is a very safe, reliable produce for patients suffering from pain and headaches due to an occipital nerve affliction. There is a small risk of infection, pain, bleeding, or swelling at the site of injection. Patients may also experience an allergic reaction to either the steroidal supplement or the anesthetic used. There is a small chance of injury to the occipital nerve if the needle is inserted incorrectly, and there is a small risk of the needle being inserted completely through the nerves to deposit the injected components into the spinal cavity.