Occipital Neuralgia

Occipital Neuralgia – A Different Approach

Occipital Neuralgia is more than just a headache or even a migraine.

It is debilitating nerve pain that radiates like fire across the back of the head, upper neck and even into the jaw and face. Because it is so intense, even light pressure on the back of the head makes the pain even stronger. When this happens, it is especially hard for people with occipital neuralgia to get any decent amount of sleep. And if you aren’t sleeping well, that only makes the pain worse.

Many standard treatments for occipital neuralgia include medication (e.g., gabapentin, oxycontin … so nasty stuff!), injections, nerve blockers and even nerve burning. Unfortunately for many people with occipital neuralgia, many of these treatments don’t work as desired. Or if they do, the unintended side effects make the cure worse than the disease.

Fortunately, there is another approach that can help occipital neuralgia without drugs, needles or surgery.


What causes occipital neuralgia?

Occipital neuralgia is caused by chronic irritation of the sensory nerves on the back of the head. These nerves exit your spine at the level of the C1 (atlas), C2 (axis) and C3 vertebrae.

When we experience head, neck or whiplash injuries (including a fall on the tailbone), the force of these impacts move like a shockwave through the spine and can damage the ligaments and muscles in your upper neck.The reason is that the C1 vertebra in particular is the only bone in the spine that does not have  a disc that locks it into place.

Now, you might be thinking, “But I didn’t have an injury that caused my pain.”

You’re probably right! However, occipital neuralgia is seldom something that happens overnight. Instead, it is the result of years or decades worth of accumulated irritation.

Imagine that you have a pebble in your shoe. The pebble might not cause immediate pain, but the longer that you walk, the more irritation it causes.

So when it comes to occipital neuralgia, think instead of old injuries:

  • Slipping on the ice
  • Tripping on the curb or on a nature hike
  • Sports injuries
  • Car accidents (even little ones)

If any of these injuries cause micro-damage to the muscles and ligaments that support the vertebrae in your upper neck, the damage accumulates until your body can no longer adapt, and that’s when the pain starts.

Here’s the other thing, because standard X-Ray, CT and MRI scans only look for overt signs of pathology (e.g., broken bones, tumors, bleeding, etc), these functional injuries often go undiagnosed. This is one major reason why so many people who experience occipital neuralgia are told that their tests “all look normal” when the fact is that they do not feel normal at all!


A Different Approach for Occipital Neuralgia

When we recognize that occipital neuralgia can be caused by an imbalance or dysfunction of the vertebrae in the upper neck region, it opens the possibility for other forms of treatment that do not need to involve medication, injections or surgery. Indeed, there is a time and place for these treatments to offer even temporary relief. However, they seldom address the underlying cause of occipital neuralgia.

Here is a where a natural approach known as the Blair technique can help. The Blair technique is a specialized form of upper cervical chiropractic that does not involve any twisting, bending, popping or cracking.

(Side note: There are over 40 different chiropractic techniques! So even if you have already tried general chiropractic, the Blair technique is different.)

The approach first involves a series of precision diagnostic tests: either digital articular X-rays (DAX) or cone-beam CT (CBCT) scans that show the exact relationships of the C1, C2 and C3 vertebrae in your neck in an upright, weight bearing position. Every human being is different on the outside as well as the inside. When we know the exact location, direction degree and combination of misalignment among these three vertebrae, the Blair technique designs a tailored adjustment based on your own anatomy to unlock these vertebrae, take the pressure off the muscles and ligaments, and allow your body to heal.

Again, the procedure itself does not involve any twisting, cracking or popping and is done with only the amount of pressure used to click a pen. That is the key. When a correction is personalized for your individual needs, your body is able to accept it easier.

If you or a loved one are experiencing occipital neuralgia, the Blair technique might be the solution you are looking for. If you are looking for a chiropractor in Spokane, visit our home page more information. To schedule a new patient appointment with our Mead (north Spokane) or South Hill offices, complete a new patient request form here or call us direct at 509-315-8166.