An occipital nerve block is a minimally invasive injection procedure that reduces pain and swelling around the occipital nerves. The greater and lesser occipital nerves are located on the back of the head just above the neck. When damaged, these nerves can cause tension and migraine headaches as well as pain, swelling, and irritation of nearby tissues. An occipital nerve block contains a local anesthetic and steroid medication, so patients typically experience both short-term and long-term pain relief after their injection. Generally speaking, patients cannot receive more than three occipital nerve blocks in any given six-month period, which is why it’s important for patients to consider supplemental therapies if more frequent injections are needed.
Because occipital nerve blocks contain a local anesthetic, patients do not usually receive intravenous sedation before their procedure. As soon as an Orthopedic and Wellness physician determines the correct injection locations, he or she will thoroughly cleanse and sanitize the affected areas. When the patient is ready, a thin needle will be inserted through the skin into deeper tissues surrounding the occipital nerves. Once the needle is in place, a local anesthetic is injected to numb the area. A second needle may be used to administer the steroid medication into the greater and lesser occipital nerves. Sometimes, only one needle is needed to inject both medications (i.e. the anesthetic and steroids). After the procedure, the needle is removed and patients are sent to a separate room to recover.
Patients will need to rest before driving home from the procedure. Once at home, the patient should continue to relax and apply ice to the injection site if any discomfort is experienced. After several hours, patients may be able to perform activities that are tolerable to them, like walking to get the mail or completing light household chores. Patients typically experience pain relief immediately after the injection. This is due to the local anesthetic and it may wear off after a few hours. Patients should begin to notice long-term pain relief three to four days after the procedure. This effect can last anywhere from several days to a few months. While complications are rare, patients should report signs of redness, swelling, infection, or fever to an Orthopedic and Wellness physician.