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Occipital Nerve Block

What is an Occipital Nerve Block?

In the USA, migraines affect around 1 in every 6 Americans, some of which can be debilitating, affecting the quality of life. There are also cluster headaches, occipital neuralgia, and many more forms of head pain that can arise in our lives due to injury or medical conditions, making your day-to-day life difficult to undergo.

One minimally invasive medical procedure that can help temporarily alleviate such headaches and pain situated in the shoulders and neck is an occipital nerve block. This procedure uses a safe dose of anesthetic medication (often a corticosteroid) injected into your occipital nerve ( a group of nerves in the back of your head), reducing inflammation from headaches and conditions.

There are three types of occipital nerves:

  • Greater occipital nerve: The largest nerve known to provide sensation to the skin of your scalp at your lower back and then to the top of your head. It also provides sensation to your ears.
  • Less occipital nerve: Sensation from this nerve is provided to the back of your scalp and the surface of your outer ear.
  • Third occipital nerve: This nerve gives sensation to the middle part of your lower back part of your scalp. This nerve is impacted the most if you are subject to whiplash. You’re likely to have two of each occipital nerve on either side of your head. Although they provide sensations to certain parts of your head, if you have damage or inflammation, they can often cause pain in other parts of your head.

At Pro Spine & Pain, we help provide you relief for your headaches by connecting you to a transformative treatment, whether that’s an occipital neuralgia nerve block or something else. With a top-tier team of board-licensed anesthesiologists and physicians specializing in pain management, they can quickly diagnose your contributor of pain through their collaborative consultation.

What To Expect During the Procedure

  • During the procedure, you’ll lie face down on the table.
  • Your doctor will apply an anesthetic to the back of your head just above your neck. They’ll then insert a fine needle into the injection site until the needle reaches your occipital nerve.
  • After the injection, the area will become numb as the pain-relieving medication takes effect. Some people notice improvements in their pain in as little as 15 minutes.
  • The procedure only takes a couple of minutes to complete. You should arrange to have someone drive you home after the procedure, but you’ll typically be able to drive and return to normal activities the next day.

How Long Does the Pain Relief Last?

The full pain-relieving effects of the steroids can take several days to take effect.

The amount of time that an occipital nerve block reduces pain varies from person to person. For some, pain relief can last months.

What Does an Occipital Nerve Block Treat?

An occipital nerve block is used to reduce chronic head pain. Some of the specific conditions it’s commonly used to treat include:


Migraines are a neurological condition that usually causes intense headaches on one side of the head. People who have migraines commonly also experience nausea, dizziness, and mood changes.

Occipital neuralgia

Occipital neuralgia is a headache disorder that usually causes shooting pain in the back of your head, one side of your neck, and behind your ears. Pain is caused by damage to the greater and lesser occipital nerves.

Spondylosis of the cervical facet joints

Also called osteoarthritis of the joints in your neck, spondylosis of the cervical facet joints is often caused by the age-related breakdown of your neck bones and discs.

Cluster headaches

Cluster headaches are a short but painful series of reoccurring headaches. People who experience them tend to get them seasonally.

Side Effects

Side effects of occipital nerve blocks may include infection, no improvement in symptoms, stronger headaches, allergic reactions, dizziness, numbness, bleeding at the injection site, light-headedness, and a small risk of nerve damage.


How Long Does a Nerve Block for a Migraine Last?

With an occipital nerve block migraine procedure, you can experience immediate results within just a few minutes. The effects of this procedure can last for several weeks up to months.

Can You Eat Before an Occipital Nerve Block?

This is a minimally invasive procedure that has very few complications. To ensure they're kept to a minimum, we ask you not to eat any food or drink 6 hours beforehand.

Can You Walk After an Occipital Nerve Block?

You'll likely be able to walk following the procedure. However, if you drive, it's better for someone to drive you home afterward.

Updated on Apr 18, 2024 by Dr. Thomas Stauss (Pain Management) of Pro Spine & Pain

Thomas Stauss, MD

Thomas Stauss, MD, completed both his undergraduate and medical studies at the esteemed University of Wisconsin in Madison. Dr. Stauss values having access to a wide array of cutting-edge treatment options, ensuring effective relief for his patients' discomfort and a significant enhancement in their quality of life. More specifically, he specializes in utilizing implanted devices to manage chronic pain. Dr. Stauss’s primary objective is to uphold the dignity of each patient while delivering ethical and professional services.

More about Dr. Stauss