- By: Dr. John Stenberg
- Date: Jan 21, 2021
Occipital Neuralgia is a pain condition associated with several nerve structures of the upper neck and scalp. Patients with occipital neuralgia typically describe a burning or shooting pain in the back of the head that may radiate into the neck, scalp, or around the ear. The episodes may be intermittent or prolonged.
Common Causes of ON
Causes of occipital neuralgia are usually descriptive of how the symptoms are produced anatomically rather than identifying the mechanism of injury. This means that patients who are diagnosed with occipital neuralgia may understand HOW the pain is being produced, but not the injury that was the reason WHY the pain is being produced. Common causes are described as nerve entrapment or “pinching” near the base of the skull and upper neck, muscle tension of the neck, arthritis of the cervical spine, trauma to the nerves of the occipital area, etc.
One of the common causes that is often not identified in a conventional medical setting is related to the alignment and mechanics of the upper cervical spine. Atlas Displacement Complex is a condition in which the upper portion of the spine becomes compromised in its structural alignment and integrity, usually from a previous injury.
When Atlas Displacement occurs, stress is transferred to the muscles, ligaments, and nerve structures of the occipital region. This includes the base of the skull as well as the upper cervical spine, including the Atlas and Axis vertebrae, or C1 and C2 respectively.
Mechanisms of Injury in Neck Related Occipital Neuralgia
Whiplash associated disorders (WAD) may be the initial injury that causes inflammation, irritation, and dysfunction of the occipital nerve structures. Over time, the accumulation of damage and irritation spills over to produce symptoms consistent with occipital neuralgia.
Similarly, trauma to the head and neck such as concussions, falls, sports injuries, repetitive poor posture, etc. can be the initiating cause of upper cervical spine dysfunction and ultimately occipital neuralgia symptoms.
Understanding how the upper cervical spine has shifted and affected the adjacent tissues (including occipital nerves and suboccipital muscles) is essential for achieving resolution of symptoms. Colorado Springs chiropractor Dr. John Stenberg focuses on Upper Cervical Chiropractic care, a unique and focused approach to managing conditions such as Atlas Displacement Complex and it’s associated disorder
Natural Treatment Option
Structural problems require structural solutions, so many patients who have a neck injury underlying their occipital neuralgia symptoms will fail to achieve complete resolution with non-structural approaches such as nerve ablation, Botox injections, medications, etc.
Upper cervical chiropractic care is a branch of chiropractic focused on diagnosing and correcting conditions of the upper cervical spine such as Atlas Displacement Complex. Consequently, many ON patients have found relief through natural and non-invasive upper cervical chiropractic care.
It is worth noting that Upper Cervical Adjustments are NOT a cure for ON, but rather a precise, gentle, and effective method of correcting structural issues of the spine that may cause ON symptoms. Each patient with occipital neuralgia is different, and a detailed diagnostic process will identify if you are experiencing the effects of Atlas Displacement Complex.
Risk Factors for Cervical Spine Related Occipital Neuralgia
- History of whiplash, car accident, concussion, or other head and neck trauma
- Neck crepitus with movement (clicking, popping, or cracking sounds when moving the head and neck)
- Neck stiffness or restrictions in range of motion
- Failure to respond to other treatment
- Persistent headaches/pain in the face, head, and neck
If you meet one or more of these criteria and are experiencing symptoms consistent with occipital neuralgia, consider consulting with an Upper Cervical chiropractor to learn if you are a candidate for care.
Colorado Springs and surrounding communities may consult with Dr. John Stenberg at Zenith Chiropractic by submitting a consultation request here. (click here)
If you are outside of the Colorado Springs area, search the directory of qualified Blair Upper Cervical Chiropractors here to find a doctor near you. (click here)