For people suffering with chronic and severe migraines and/or headaches the symptoms can be devastating. Often the quality of life for these people is greatly reduced and they really need treatment in order to be able to work and be a functioning member of society. Often one of the first avenues of treatment that a doctor will offer to someone with chronic head pain will be an occipital nerve block.
An occipital nerve block is essentially just the numbing of the greater occipital nerve that runs from the spine and through the back of the head to behind the ears and around the eye area. This is done via an injection, containing a mild local anesthetic to avoid pain from inserting a needle into the vein and surrounding tissues. This local anesthetic may serve to numb the original pain considerably, but it will only do so for a few hours until it wears off. The main substance to be injected, however, is a steroid medication that works over a longer period of time to block the sensitivity of the occipital nerve. It can take up to five days to start working, but once it does the effects can last from one fortnight to a month.
Occipital nerve block treatment is used for a wide range of conditions and disorders, such as Arnold’s Neuralgia; a condition caused by trauma, irritation or damage to the occipital nerve. People with this kind of condition may have regular occipital nerve blocks, but it is not recommended to have more that three in a six month period due to the steroid content, which can cause side effects. Because of this, a more permanent treatment may be sought that doesn’t involve occipital nerve blocks, such as nerve stimulation therapy, anti depressants or surgery to disable the nerve from sending pain signals to the brain. Occipital nerve blocks are generally reserved for those suffering from a temporary condition such as painful recovery from a tumor removal or migraines as a result of disrupted hormone levels.
An occipital nerve block is a simple injection that can be carried out in a doctor’s office, as long as the patient has somewhere to sit or lie down. They are always required to rest for a few minutes after the injection to make sure there aren’t any adverse side effects, but afterwards they are not restricted as to what they can do at all. Around one quarter of people will experience dizziness following an occipital nerve block.
There are some risks of side effects and complications with a nerve block that can lead to exacerbated pain instead of a reduction, and infection, but these are very rare. The vast majority of people who undergo occipital nerve block treatment come away after 3 to 4 days with drastically reduced pain and headaches, which lasts for two to three weeks afterwards. If you are considering asking your doctor for an occipital nerve block then make sure you know what’s causing your pain first.