Occipital Nerve Block: Preparations and FAQS : The nerves located at the back of your head near the base of your skull are known as the occipital nerves. These nerves can result in chronic pain and headaches when they are irritated, inflamed or injured.
An occipital nerve block is used to block or numb pain resulting from occipital nerve irritation or injury. The procedure involves injecting a local anesthetic and steroids into the occipital nerve area to relieve pain.
The local anesthetic is a numbing agent that provides immediate pain relief. The steroid is an anti-inflammatory agent that helps to reduce inflammation and also provides longer-lasting pain relief.
Patients with chronic headaches and occipital neuralgia may benefit from occipital nerve block.
Preparations for an occipital nerve block
Before undergoing an occipital nerve block, your doctor will first review your medical history. Your doctor will also check the medications that you are currently taking.
You may also undergo imaging scans so that your doctor can view the internal structure of your head and pinpoint the exact nerves causing the pain.
You will be asked to describe your pain. Your doctor may conduct a physical examination to check your level of pain.
Inform your doctor if you have any allergies.
You may need to stop taking blood-thinning medications for a few days before the procedure.
Arrange for someone that will drive you back home after the procedure because you won’t be allowed to drive.
How occipital nerve block is done
You will need to sit upright. The area where the injection will be given will be cleaned and localized with alcohol. You will need to remain awake throughout the procedure to provide feedback.
The injection site may be numbed to reduce pain. Your doctor will insert a needle and direct it into the area between the greater and lesser occipital nerves. X-ray guidance may be used so that your doctor can see clearly the direction of the needle.
When the needle is at the right position, the medication containing local anesthetic and steroid will be delivered slowly into the area.
You may feel a stinging and burning sensation as the medication is being delivered.
The procedure is short and takes only 2-3 minutes to be completed.
After the injection
You will be observed for about 30 minutes and be asked to provide feedback.
You can go back home after a few hours but driven by someone else. This is because you are not allowed to drive within the first 24 hours after the injection.
You can go back to your work or resume your normal daily activities the next day.
Avoid strenuous activities.
Avoid soaking yourself in water or dipping yourself in a bathtub for the next 24 hours.
You may need to keep follow-up appointments.
Any other specific instructions will be provided by your doctor.
You may feel immediate pain relief from the anesthetic. The effect of the anesthetic lasts for a few hours. You will start feeling pain again where the effect of the anesthetic wears off.
The steroid will start to take effect after 2-3 days. You will experience longer-lasting pain relief when the steroids start working.
Most people can experience pain relief for several months after undergoing occipital nerve block.
Side Effects of occipital nerve block
Occipital nerve block is generally considered safe for most people. Side effects that may occur include:
- Pain or irritation at the injection site
- Bleeding at the injection site
- Allergic reactions from the anesthesia
- Stronger headaches
- Risk of nerve damage
- No improvement in symptoms after the injection
What happens if occipital nerve block doesn’t work?
The reason why occipital nerve block will not work may be that the pain is not from the occipital nerves. The pain may be from somewhere else. Your doctor will have to search for where the pain is coming from and suggest other appropriate treatment options.
How often can you get an occipital nerve block?
You can have a maximum of 3-4 occipital nerve block injections in a year. Your doctor will inform you when to have each injection.
Does occipital nerve block hurt?
You will be given anesthetic at the back of your head to numb pain and make you feel comfortable. You may start to experience pain when the effect of the anesthetic has worn off.
What type of doctor can perform occipital nerve block?
Physiatrists, radiologists, anesthesiologists, neurologists, and surgeons are doctors that have the knowledge and skills to perform occipital nerve blocks.