Occipital Neuralgia

Occipital neuralgia occurs when one of the two nerves that provide much of the feeling in the back and top of the head gets irritated. It’s usually the result of a blood vessel pressing on one of two occipital nerves, which run from the upper neck through the back of the head.



Occipital neuralgia symptoms include:

  • A constant burning sensation in the face
  • Extreme sensitivity in the scalp and/or face
  • Numbness in the scalp 
  • Pain behind one eye
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Sharp, shooting, zapping or tingling pain in the head and neck (especially at the base of the skull radiating out toward the sides of the head)


First, you’ll meet with your doctor for a physical exam. You’ll talk about your symptoms and your doctor may order imaging tests, such as an MRI, to rule out other health problems.

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Treatment Options

If you have occipital neuralgia, your team of neurosurgeons will work with you to tailor a treatment plan to meet your needs. Occipital neuralgia can be treated temporarily or permanently, depending on the severity. Often it can be managed conservatively, with medication and physical therapy, as well as with surgery.

Occipital neuralgia treatments may include:

  • Pain-management techniques like massage, medication or physical therapy
  • An occipital nerve block, in which medication is injected around the occipital nerves to ease pain
  • Microvascular decompression, a minimally invasive surgery to stop the blood vessel from pressing on the nerve

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