How Occipital Neuralgia Is Different From a Migraine

Get relief from occipital neuralgia. While you may mistake the pain for a migraine, occipital neuralgia is quite different. With occipital neuralgia, the pain is more stabbing than dull and it may only last for a few minutes. There are other differences between the two conditions as well. To get a correct diagnosis of occipital neuralgia, see a peripheral nerve specialist such as Dr. Williams.

The Differences Between Occipital Neuralgia and Migraine

Both occipital neuralgia and migraines cause pain in the head or neck that can be severe, but the two conditions have different causes. Migraines are caused by a change in the brain whereas occipital neuralgia is caused by compressed or irritated occipital nerves. Occipital nerves run from the base of the skull to the back of the head to the scalp.

Some other differences and similarities between occipital neuralgia and migraines are:

  • Triggers. Migraines can have specific triggers such as eating a certain food. Occipital neuralgia does not have triggers. 
  • Visual symptoms. Migraines often produce visual symptoms before the onset of the headache. This does not occur with occipital neuralgia. With occipital neuralgia, the pain is often sudden.
  • Location of pain. Both migraines and occipital neuralgia can cause pain on one or both sides of the head.
  • Episode length. Occipital neuralgia may produce pain that lasts for only a few seconds to minutes. With a migraine, the pain can last much longer.

A peripheral pain specialist such as Dr. Williams can do a nerve block to confirm that the pain is from occipital neuralgia rather than from a migraine. If the patient has relief with the nerve block, it can confirm the diagnosis of occipital neuralgia.

Occipital Neuralgia Treatment Options

Occipital neuralgia is not effectively treated using the same treatments used for migraines. Dr. Williams will do an examination in order to recommend the best treatment options for your specific needs. For mild cases of occipital neuralgia, conservative treatments such as medication or massage are typically first recommended. 

In more severe cases of occipital neuralgia that do not respond to conservative treatments, nerve decompression surgery can be performed. This surgery is known as occipital release surgery. It is done to release the occipital nerves from the surrounding tissue and muscles that are compressing them. Occipital release surgery is done under general anesthesia as an outpatient procedure.

If you have occipital neuralgia and are looking for pain relief options, contact Dr. Williams for a consultation. To schedule an appointment in our Baltimore office, call us at (410) 709-3868 or fill out our contact form online.

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