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Occipital neuralgia

Occipital neuralgia is a rare neurological condition that involves shooting, shocking, throbbing, burning, or aching pain and headache that generally starts at the base of the head and spreads along the scalp on one or both sides of the head. It involves the occipital nerves, which run from the area where the spinal column meets the neck, up to the scalp at the back of the head.

Pain is typically felt in the:

  • Upper neck
  • Back of the head
  • Behind the eyes and ears (usually on one side of the head)
  • Scalp
  • Forehead

The pain usually begins in the neck and then spreads upward. Some people describe the pain as migraine-like. The scalp may become tender and extremely sensitive to the point where a light touch can cause severe pain (allodynia). Causes of occipital neuralgia include injury, pinched nerve, overly tight neck muscles, nerve compression, disc disease, or infection and inflammation.

Diagnosis of occipital neuralgia is usually done through a physical and neurological exam, along with diagnostic imaging. A nerve block (in which a local anesthetic and steroid drug are injected into the area around the nerve) may help with diagnosis. Treatment options include medications, steroid injections, heat, and surgery.

How can I or a loved one help improve care for people with occipital neuralgia?

Consider participating in a clinical trial so clinicians and scientists can learn more about occipital neuralgia and head and neck pain. Clinical research uses human volunteers to help researchers learn more about a disorder and perhaps find better ways to safely detect, treat, or prevent disease.

All types of volunteers are needed—those who are healthy or may have an illness or disease—of all different ages, sexes, races, and ethnicities to ensure that study results apply to as many people as possible, and that treatments will be safe and effective for everyone who will use them.

For information about participating in clinical research visit NIH Clinical Research Trials and You. Learn about clinical trials currently looking for people with occipital neuralgia at

Where can I find more information about occipital neuralgia?

Information may be available through the following resource:

American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS)
Phone: 847-378-0500 or 888-566-2267

Content source: Accessed July 14, 2023.

The information in this document is for general educational purposes only. It is not intended to substitute for personalized professional advice. Although the information was obtained from sources believed to be reliable, MedLink, its representatives, and the providers of the information do not guarantee its accuracy and disclaim responsibility for adverse consequences resulting from its use. For further information, consult a physician and the organization referred to herein.

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