Occipital Neuralgia Symptoms: Neck Pain
Pain in the neck can be more than just a hassle. Neck pain can come from disorders and diseases of any structure in the neck. There are seven vertebrae that are the bony building blocks of the spine in the neck (the cervical vertebrae) that surround the spinal cord and canal. Between these vertebrae are discs and nearby pass the nerves of the neck. Within the neck, structures include the:
- neck muscles,
- arteries, veins,
- lymph glands,
- thyroid gland,
- parathyroid glands,
- esophagus, larynx, and
Disease of any of these structures can lead to neck pain.
What causes occipital neuralgia?
The cause of occipital neuralgia is poorly understood. It is thought to occur when the occipital nerves become irritated or inflamed. There can be many different causes of this nerve irritation, including whiplash or other injury to the neck, injury to the back of the head, muscle spasm or recurrent muscle tightness, arthritis of the cervical spine, or other structural changes to the upper cervical spine. Infrequent causes of this type of headache can include diabetes, infection, or inflammation of different blood vessels.
Is there a test to diagnose occipital neuralgia?
There is no test to specifically diagnose or confirm occipital neuralgia. The diagnosis is made on physical examination findings such as a marked tenderness to pressure along the occipital nerve; palpation of this region often will reproduce or worsen the pain that the patient is experiencing. If the patient has tenderness over the distribution of the greater occipital nerve is important in making this diagnosis. There may be some associated muscle tightness or spasm in the neck region. Some doctors perform a nerve block using a local anesthetic to see if this will eliminate or relieve the pain, helping to confirm the diagnosis. X-rays of the neck, CT scan, or MRI scan may be ordered if there is a concern that some underlying problem is causing the symptoms.