FAQs on Occipital Nerve Blocks
Headaches and migraines are mainly caused by irritation of the nerves that are located at the back of the head, around the neck region. An occipital nerve block (ONB) is a medical procedure that is used to diagnose and treat such painful headaches and migraines. Although, not always 100% effective, medical research has shown that occipital nerve blocks do indeed help alleviate or reduce headaches and neuralgias by numbing these irritated nerves.
The exact injection which contains a steroid medication and some local anesthetic, takes place around the greater and lesser occipital nerves. These are the nerves that run from the top of the spinal column at the base of the neck and up through the scalp into the head.
An occipital nerve block is used to diagnose and treat nagging headaches and migraines. A recent study showed that 100% of patients diagnosed with occipital neuralgia (which is essentially the neurological condition in which the greater and lesser occipital nerves are irritated, inflamed or injured) who were given an occipital nerve block (ONB) of lidocaine and dexamethasone experienced a 50% reduction of pain caused by the occipital neuralgia medical condition. Thus, patients with an occipital neuralgia medical condition are among the most successful candidates of an ONB medical procedure.
What will an Occipital Nerve Block treat?
Migraines, cervicogenic headaches and other primary headache disorders (such as cluster headaches) may also be effectively treated by an occipital nerve block. In migraines (chronic neurological disorders that are marked by intensely painful and stabbing headaches) occipital nerve blocks help alleviate the pain caused by migraine auras. ON blocks also serve as a viable alternative to orally administered medications.
In cluster headaches (short, excruciating and stabbing pains that occur on one side of the head mainly around the eye), an occipital nerve block poses as an important treatment alternative in patients who are unable to use oxygen and sumatriptan due to its side effects. In cervicogenic headaches (headache disorders that originate from the nervous system that serves the neck region of the spinal column), ONB has proved useful in arresting pain in a quicker and more efficient delivery when compared to other forms of medication.
An occipital nerve block is a medical procedure that takes only a few minutes and involves minimal preparation. The procedure involves inserting small a fine needle through the skin and into the deeper tissues of the scalp at the back of the head in order to deliver medication to the affected nerves.
To reduce the pain the patient may be numbed with a local anesthetic delivered using a thin needle (before the nerve block). The procedure is done with the patient seated or lying down, where the skin and possibly the hair at the back of the head will be cleaned with antiseptic solution before the injection is carried out.
Among the first effects a patient experiences immediately after the procedure is usually a numbness that arises as a result of the local anesthetic injected. This lasts for a few hours after which a patient is left with soreness for a day or two, often due to the mechanical injuries caused by the insertion of the needle and the irritation as a result of the steroid used.
Studies looking at the benefits of these blocks have shown most work well for headaches, migraines and occipital neuralgia for months at a time. It may take a series of them a few weeks apart to reach maximum benefit.
Performed by an experienced practitioner, there are no serious complications that arise out of an ONB. Common side effects may include: soreness and tenderness at the injection site, minor bleeding, and infection.
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