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A cervicogenic headache is a type of headache that involves feeling pain in a part of the body that is not the true source of the problem.

An occipital cervicogenic headache can be caused by a disorder in the occipital (back of head) region.

Individuals with occipital cervicogenic headaches may have a reduced range of motion of their neck and experience worsening symptoms when moving their neck in a certain way or applying pressure to certain spots on their neck. The headache may be one-sided and the pain may radiate from the neck to the front of the head or behind the eye.


Treating Occipital Cervicogenic Headaches

A greater and lesser occipital nerve block can help treat and diagnose occipital cervicogenic headaches by injecting pain relieving medication and steroids into the greater and lesser occipital nerves.

The following conditions may be treated with a greater and lesser occipital nerve block:

  • Migraines
  • Cluster headaches
  • Spondylosis of the cervical facet joints
  • Occipital neuralgia

Patients who have sensations of shooting, zapping, stinging or burning pain experience the greatest benefits following the procedure. A greater and lesser occipital nerve block is more effective for patients with relatively recent pain, rather than long-standing pain.

Patients with chronic headaches may need three to four injections per year for effective pain relief.

A lack of results may be a sign that the patient’s condition has been misdiagnosed and the occipital nerves are not the true source of pain.

Potential Side Effects

A greater and lesser occipital nerve block is considered a safe procedure. However, patients may experience the following side effects after the injection:

  • Infection
  • Numbness
  • No improvement in symptoms
  • Stronger headaches
  • Light-headedness
  • Allergic reactions
  • Dizziness
  • Bleeding at the injection site
  • Small risk of nerve damage

Who is a Candidate?

A greater and lesser occipital nerve block may not be a good option for patients who:

  • Have diabetes
  • Are allergic to steroids
  • Are taking blood-thinning drugs
  • Have a heart condition
  • Have an infection

What to Expect During a Greater and Lesser Occipital Nerve Block Procedure

Once the patient is lying face down on the table, the medical professional will clean the back of the patient’s head with an antiseptic. Next, the doctor will apply an anesthetic to the back of the head and insert a needle into the occipital nerve. The injection site will become numb and the patient may notice improvement in their pain in as little as 15 minutes.

The steroid may relieve pain associated with a swollen nerve, with the full effects typically felt two to three days after the procedure.

The procedure will take only a few minutes and patients will be able to engage in regular activities the following day.

After the Procedure

Patients may experience pain relief for a few weeks or a few months; effects will vary. For maximum benefit, patients should follow healthy habits. For example:

  • Reduce alcohol consumption
  • Minimize stress
  • Avoid bright lights and sounds
  • Stay hydrated
  • Get enough sleep
  • Stay active