Occipital neuralgia is a shooting pain or sensitivity that occurs at the base of the skull and neck. Some people experience numbness in the area, or the skin can become so sensitive that they are unable to wash their hair or find a comfortable position on a pillow. Sometimes shooting pain or an electric-feeling "zap" travels from one point to another, spreading to the side of the face. Causes of occipital neuralgia typically affect the nerves between the spine and upper neck, and make them begin firing.
Arthritis can cause pinching at the root of the nerve. When the condition affects the neck joints, it can cause the tissues around them to become inflamed, which places pressure on the nerve and triggers occipital neuralgia. Typically chronic, the effects can be difficult to manage due to their association with arthritis. Osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis can both trigger occipital neuralgia.
Occipital neuralgia can also develop from trauma to the neck, such as whiplash from a car injury, or muscle strains and tension. The event causes the tissues surrounding the nerve to become inflamed. This places pressure on the nerve, causing occipital neuralgia. In such cases, treatment of occipital neuralgia goes hand-in-hand with the treatment of the injury. As the latter improves, the former should, as well.
A tumor on the back of the neck or throat can place pressure on the nerves and cause them to fire. As the tumor grows, the pain typically gets worse. This type of occipital neuralgia can be unrelenting and will only disappear once the underlying tumor is treated or removed. Both benign and malignant tumors can cause the symptoms.
Degeneration in the C2 and C3 vertebra can cause occipital neuralgia. Cervical disc disease and other degenerative disc conditions can cause the pain: as the disc degenerates, it places compression pressure on the nerves. In this case, the condition can be chronic and become better or worse depending on the success of treatment.
Sometimes occipital neuralgia is caused by stress or tension. Holding tension in the muscles surrounding the occipital nerves will cause them to fire. This type of tension can be associated with cluster headaches or migraines. Reducing stress and relieving muscle tension usually relieves this kind of occipital neuralgia. The key is taking measures to manage stress effectively so it does not return.
Poor posture, such as sitting slumped in an office chair all day or sleeping in a bad position, can cause occipital neuralgia. In this case, the neuralgia comes from compression of the spinal discs and inflammation of the muscles and tendons next to the occipital nerve. If you notice your pain only occurs at the end of a workday, your posture may be the culprit.
If you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes and fail to control your blood sugar, you may develop occipital neuralgia. Diabetic neuropathy can occur in the occipital nerves, damaging those that continually relay messages to the brain. Once this type of damage occurs, it is often lifelong, so the best solution is prevention by controlling your blood sugar.
People with gout may also develop occipital neuralgia. Gout is caused by the accumulation of urate crystals in your joints and can develop in the neck. The condition is accompanied by heat in the joint, tenderness, and swelling that can press on the occipital nerves.
People with inflamed blood vessels may also get occipital neuralgia. Typically referred to as vasculitis, this inflammation restricts blood flow and can cause organ and tissue damage. Vasculitis is rare and often accompanies other medical conditions. Controlling inflammation and flare-ups of the condition will help to control the occipital neuralgia it causes.
An infection, even one such as the common flu, can cause occipital neuralgia because it can trigger inflammation of the tissues and muscles surrounding the nerves. Usually, occipital neuralgia caused by an infection is temporary and will resolve when the underlying infection is treated and goes away. Furthermore, some infections or diseases may attack the joints or nerves themselves, leading to neuralgia.
This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.