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How Do Doctors Treat Occipital Nerve Pain?

A doctor often prescribes medication at first to treat occipital nerve pain.
Occipital headaches can sometimes cause pain behind the eyes.
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  • Written By: Angela Crout-Mitchell
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 28 July 2014
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Doctors and other medical professionals use several methods to treat and reduce the symptoms of occipital nerve pain, including medications, manual therapies, and surgery. Occipital nerve pain is caused by nerve inflammation from compression or impingement of the nerve, and can also be caused by preexisting medical conditions such as diabetes, gout, and nerve injury. In some cases occipital neuralgia is misdiagnosed as migraine headaches, and the accurate diagnosis may take some time to reach. The symptoms of this disorder include throbbing pain in the back of the head and neck region as well as light sensitivity and tingling sensations over the scalp and behind the eyes and ears.

One of the first treatments most doctors use to treat occipital nerve pain is medications, often anti-inflammatories and anti-convulsants. The anti-inflammatory medications are used to soothe the irritated tissues of the C2 nerves and reduce swelling and pain. This treatment is often sufficient to restore general well-being and to eliminate the chronic symptoms of this disorder. Anti-convulsants are used for patients who experience more serious symptoms and to reduce the likelihood of muscle spasm of the neck and head. Some patients may require a combination of the drugs to completely take care of occipital neuralgia.

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In addition or in place of medications, some doctors prescribe manual therapies, such as massage therapy, acupuncture, and acupressure, to provide relief for patients. The doctor may recommend that the patient visit another medical professional with specialized training in those fields to ensure the most effective treatment. All of the manual therapies are designed to provide non-invasive muscle relief and may even help reduce the inflammation and compression of the nerve. It is not unusual for the occipital nerves to benefit from several different types of therapy, including conventional medications and manual therapies.

When the more conventional methods for treating occipital nerve pain fail, doctors may choose to try an occipital nerve block or surgery to correct the problem. During an occipital nerve block, medication is injected into the nerve to stop pain receptors from sending that information to the brain. The result is that the patient is pain free for a time period, though it is common for the procedure to be repeated if necessary. Surgery involves severing the occipital nerves, which provides a permanent, though unpopular, solution to the occipital nerve pain. These options are only used in the most severe cases of this condition.

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