If you suffer from chronic headaches, you know how debilitating they can be. You may have tried different treatments to find relief. These include psychological approaches, relaxation, and medications but you may not have tried one of the minimally invasive nerve blocks that might be helpful. A  commonly performed and relatively safe later approach is known as an occipital nerve block. Read on to learn more about how this treatment works and whether it could be right for you.

An occipital nerve block is an injection of a steroid and/or anesthetic medication into the back of the head, targeting the occipital nerves. These are two pairs of nerves located in the back of the skull that controls sensation in the head and neck area. It can be used to provide relief from some specific cases of chronic headaches or neck pain, typically lasting for several months after just one treatment. 

During an occipital nerve block procedure, a clinician usually uses either ultrasound guidance or fluoroscopy (a type of X-ray imaging) for guidance. This is typically done in one session, with the patient typically feeling relief from their pain within minutes to hours of the procedure. 

Occipital nerve blocks are found to be effective in treating some specific types of chronic headaches.  Studies have shown that these treatments may reduce the intensity of pain, reduce the frequency and provide long-term relief from such chronic headaches. In some cases, patients have reported complete resolution of their headache symptoms following a series of occipital nerve block injections. Their effectiveness may vary depending on the type and severity of your condition. 

Occipital nerve blocks are generally safe procedures, with a low incidence of side effects. The most common side effect is temporary numbness around the area where the medication was injected. Other potential side effects may include pain or swelling at the injection site, headache, dizziness, nausea, and allergic reaction to the anesthetic used in the injection. It is important to talk to your doctor before the procedure to discuss possible risks and side effects. Most people find that their symptoms are relieved after just one treatment.  However, some may require multiple treatments over time, as required, to achieve the desired results. 

It is also important to discuss any medications you are taking with your doctor, as some may interact with the medication used in an occipital nerve block. As always, be sure to follow your clinician’s instructions and report any changes or side effects that may occur after receiving the injection. It is advised that you rest for a few days following an occipital nerve block, and avoid strenuous activities until the numbness around the area of injection has worn off. 

Overall, these procedures provide temporary relief from some specific chronic headaches or neck pain while minimizing the need for long-term medications, including opioids. 

Please contact us today at the Pain and Spine Center of Charlottesville to see if an occipital nerve block may be the right option for you.