What is occipital neuralgia?
Occipital Neuralgia is a TERRIBLE pain syndrome that causes severe deep searing and shooting pain at the base of the skull. Occipital Neuralgia is a close relative to trigeminal Neuralgia and glossopharyngeal Neuralgia.
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It has been our experience in our Los Angeles based upper office that the three neuralgias, occipital, trigeminal, and glossopharyngeal neuralgia are highly correlated to upper cervical spine injuries. We have also found that precisely correcting spinal misalignment in the upper cervical spine can produce dramatic health changes in patients with occipital neuralgia and it's cousins.
Occipital Neuralgia can be debilitating but there are natural health care options including chiropractic, that are very effective. Understanding occipital neuralgia can help patients better manage it so they can minimize the pain and symptoms of the condition until they heal through it.
Occipital Neuralgia is a painful condition that is produced when the lesser and/or greater occipital nerves are entrapped by muscles, veins, or soft tissue causing the hallmark electrical shock pain experienced up the back of the head.
There are two greater occipital nerves, one on each side of the head, from between the vertebrae located in the upper neck through the muscles that are located at the base of the skull and back of the head.
While they do not cover the areas on or near the ears or over the face, they can extend over the scalp as far as the forehead. When those nerves are injured or become inflamed, occipital neuralgia is the result.
A person with this condition may experience pain at the base of their skull or the back of their head. The pain is usually transient, however, in some severe cases, they feel constant throbbing pain and occasional sharp shorting electrical pain.
What are the symptoms of occipital neuralgia?
Pain is the most common symptom of occipital neuralgia. Occipital Neuralgia is often misdiagnosed as a migraine headache or cluster headache because the pain is described as throbbing, burning, and aching which can be similar.
There may also be intermittent shooting or shocking pain. Typically, the pain begins at the base of the skull but may radiate along the side of the scalp or in the back of the head. Other symptoms include:
- Pain is most commonly one-sided however a minority have bilateral pain.
- Pain behind the eye of the side that is affected. Called question mark headache- the pain wraps around top of ear extending to neck.
- Tenderness in the scalp
- Sensitivity to light and sometimes sound
- Pain exacerbated by neck certain movement
What causes occipital neuralgia?
Irritation or pressure to the occipital nerves is what actually causes the pain. This may be due to tight muscles in the neck that squeeze or trap the nerves, injury, or inflammation. The root cause of this mechanism is a prior whiplash trauma that dislodges the top vertebrae in the neck called the atlas.
Because the muscles at the base of the skull are controlled by the brainstem, upper cervical misalignment can irritate the muscle tone center in the brainstem causing chronically tight muscles at the base of the skull.
Possible causes of occipital Neuralgia:
- Tight neck muscles
- Trauma or injury to the back of the head
- Tension in the neck muscles
- Inflammation of the blood vessels in and around the neck
- Neck tumors
- Cervical disc disease
All of the above conditions with the exception of a tumor, gout, and diabetes can have their root cause in spinal misalignment at the base of the skull and subsequent nervous system irritation and interference.
How Can Upper Cervical Chiropractic Help With Occipital Neuralgia?
We have already intimated that the upper cervical spine houses the brainstem which is the most important anatomical region when health is concerned. Among other centers, the postural muscle tone center is located in the brainstem.
When an individual suffers whiplash, sports injuries, or skip and fall the forces involved can damage the soft tissue supporting structural integrity at the skull neck junction leading to spinal misalignment and nervous system interference.
A cascade of adaptations takes place throughout the spine and body in response. One adaptation is chronic muscle tightness in the upper neck. Chronic tightness can entrap the suboccipital nerves leading to occipital Neuralgia.
What Does An Upper Cervical Chiropractor Do?
Blair Upper Cervical doctors are specially trained to locate spinal misalignments in the upper cervical spine and correct them. Spinal misalignment is located by running a battery of neurological tests that locate the spinal segments that have been injured and misaligned by a prior neck injury.
Once located, precision imaging in the form of digital x-ray or cone-beam computed tomography (Cbct) is used to precisely determine which joint has misaligned and the angulation of the misaligned joint. Each person’s anatomy is different and therefore imaging is used to uncover the blueprint to be used to correct each patient’s individual misalignment pattern.
Once this information is gleaned, a gentle, light correction is made without twisting, popping, or pulling. The patient is then monitored overtime to ensure that the correction is holding. If the testing indicates the need for another correction, then it is performed.
However, the goal of Blair Upper Cervical Care is for the patient to stay in “adjustment”. It isn’t the correction that produces healing. It is the removal of nerve irritation and the adjustment “holding” in its normal position that allows the body to function better and proceed through a healing process. If you or a loved one is looking for natural occipital Neuralgia treatment or better Health our offices offer a FREE consultation.