Overview of Occipital Nerve Block for Headaches and Migraines

The occipital nerve block injection is a procedure used to treat head pain most often associated with cluster headaches, migraines, and occipital neuralgia (head pain related to the occipital nerve). With as many as 15% of Americans suffering from severe or chronic headaches, millions of people receive some form of nerve block, including the occipital nerve block injection.

What conditions are treatable with the occipital nerve block?Migraine headaches

The occipital nerve block procedure can be used to treat patients suffering from severe, chronic pain related to the occipital nerve, migraine headaches, cluster headaches, and tension headaches.

What are expectations when a patient receives an occipital nerve block injection?

The majority of patients that receive occipital nerve block injections will experience at least some level of relief from their head pain. Because different people respond to the medications used differently individual results cannot be anticipated, but success rates for the procedure is fairly high.

How is an occipital nerve block injection performed?

The occipital nerve block is a fairly painless, simple outpatient procedure. It generally only takes ten to fifteen minutes to perform and is followed by a thirty minute observation period to guard against a negative reaction to the medications, although these are rare.

The procedure is performed by having the patient either lie down face down, or sit in a forward reclining position to facilitate ease of access to the injection site. The skin of the area to be injected is cleansed with antiseptic solution and then numbed with a topical anesthetic.

A mixture of local anesthetic and corticosteroids are then slowly injected into an area at the base of the skull just above the neck. Often the patient will experience relief immediately due to the local anesthetic, but this is temporary and generally wears off in about 24 hours. The steroid medication can take 2 to 3 days to take effect but then it provides a longer lasting relief.

How long do the effects from the occipital nerve block injection last?

The effects of the injection can last for anywhere from several days, to several weeks, or even several months, depending on how well the patient responds to the medications and the number of injections the patient has had.

Often the procedure is performed as a series of injections over several months of which at the end relief may continue for several more months. Some patients have reported the benefit lasting as long as a Occipital Nerve Blockfull year after having had several injections over a period of a few months.

What risk or side effects are possible with the occipital nerve block injection?

Risks and side effects are minimal; they include light swelling, bruising and bleeding at the injection site. Temporary increased pain; this is often associated with the swelling and is from the corticosteroid and will subside as the medication is absorbed by the tissue surrounding the injection area.

Allergic reaction to the medication is possible and prolonged, repeated injections of steroids into the same area can deteriorate the soft tissue, but these are very uncommon reactions.

How successful are occipital nerve blocks for the relief of pain?

Generally the procedure is very successful in relieving chronic head pain as the medications act on the nerve, numbing it and so preventing it from sending pain signals to the brain. The vast majority of patients’ who receive these injections find them to be successful.

What is the bottom line on this procedure?

The bottom line is that the occipital nerve block injection can provide relief to those who suffer from various forms of chronic head pain. Discuss your symptoms with your doctor to determine if the occipital nerve block can help you.