You’re experiencing intense head pain, but you’re not sure if it’s a headache, migraine, or a lesser-known condition called occipital neuralgia. What are the most common occipital neuralgia symptoms that can lead to a correct diagnosis? We discuss 12 of the leading symptoms, and also talk about how this condition differs from migraines and headaches.

What causes occipital neuralgia? 

Its symptoms are similar to headache, but occipital neuralgia has a distinct origin that is often quite different than typical headaches and migraines. Occipital neuralgia is caused by irritation, inflammation, or injury to the occipital nerves. The occipital nerves run up from the base of the neck to the back of the skull, as shown below.

Occipital Neuralgia Symptoms |

John Hopkins Medicine explains how these enervate the head:

“Most of the feeling in the back and top of the head is transmitted to the brain by the two greater occipital nerves. There is one nerve on each side of the head. Emerging from between bones of the spine in the upper neck, the two occipital nerves make their way through muscles at the back of the head and into the scalp. They sometimes reach nearly as far forward as the forehead, but do not cover the face or the area near the ears; other nerves supply these regions.”

Occipital neuralgia occurs when these nerves are damaged. Most often, an isolated incident is to blame. Considerable trauma or injury to the head or neck can damage these nerves. This often occurs in a car accident or some other injury that causes whiplash.

Other common causes include overly tight neck muscles, arthritis, and diabetes. You can learn more about each of these in our post “8 Of The Most Common Causes Of Occipital Neuralgia.”

Since there are very specific occipital neuralgia causes, this condition is often confused with migraines or other severe headaches. True occipital neuralgia is rare. The American Migraine Foundation estimates that only 3.2 people out of 100,000 actually suffer from this condition. The following video talks about occipital neuralgia symptoms and causes in more detail.

What are the most common occipital neuralgia symptoms? 

To determine if you’re suffering from occipital neuralgia vs migraine or other types of headaches, it’s important to look at the symptoms of occipital neuralgia.

The most common occipital neuralgia symptoms include:

  1. Sudden, severe, and sharp head pain
  2. Pain that occurs most commonly behind the eye, at the base of the head, and on one side of the head
  3. Sensitivity to light
  4. Scalp tenderness
  5. Blurry vision
  6. Dizziness
  7. Vertigo
  8. Slurred speech
  9. Nausea
  10. Vomiting
  11. Tightness and pain in the neck
  12. Dental pain

Let’s talk about these occipital neuralgia symptoms in more detail.


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