Occipital Nerve Blocks | Headache Treatment

An occipital nerve block is an injection of steroids or another type of medication. The medicine is injected into the occipital nerves that are located above the area of the neck on the back of a person’s head. The procedure involves the insertion of a needle through skin and some of the deeper tissue, so there may be some discomfort when the needle is inserted.

Purpose of Occipital Nerve Blocks

The injection of steroids reduces inflammation and swelling that may surround the occipital nerves which may then reduce the pain and other associated symptoms. Some of the conditions that may respond well to these nerve blocks include headaches such as migraines and some types of tension headaches. The patient may sit or lie down while the injection is administered.

As soon as the doctor is finished with the injection the patient may feel little or no pain because of the local anesthetic that is included in the medication. This initial lack of pain will only last for a few hours after which the patient may have a sore head for a couple of days. It will take three to five days before there is a noticeable improvement in the pain level. The patient will feel the effects of the steroid for several days to several months.

Risks and Side Effects

In most cases occipital nerve blocks are safe procedures, but like any kind of medical procedure, there are definitely risks, potential complications, and side effects.

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The most common side effect is the presence of temporary pain at the site where the injection was administered. There is also a slight risk of infection, increase in the level of pain, and even bleeding. It is quite fortunate serious side effects are not very common.

While the procedure is generally safe, there are some patients who are not good candidates for occipital nerve blocks such as those who are allergic to any of the medications; patients taking blood thinners; patients who currently have an infection; and patients whose diabetes is not well-controlled or have heart disease.


Occipital nerve blocks can be very helpful for some people who are experiencing a great deal of pain including some tension headaches and migrains. The best candidiates for the success of the procedure are those who have recently begun experiencing pain rather than those who have been suffering for a long period of time. While there are some health conditions that might make the procedure unsafe, the majority of people with chronic pain can safely undergo occipital nerve blocks and possibly resume normal activities and improve their quality of life.