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The Occipital Nerve Block Procedure

written by: Finn Orfano • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 4/28/2010

In this article you will learn important information about the occipital nerve block procedure. You will learn what is expected during the procedure, after the procedure, and risks and side effects of an occipital nerve block.

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    The Occipital Nerve Block Procedure

    A occipital nerve block uses a local anesthesia to numb the area of the injection site. The patient will bend their head forward and rest it on a padded bedside table. The patient's blood pressure is monitored along with the use of a EKG and a blood oxygen-monitoring device. The injection site is on the back of the head and results are sometimes felt immediately.

    The steroid used during the procedure reduces inflammation and swelling of the tissues that surround the occipital nerves. When the inflammation around the nerves is reduced, the pain may be reduced as well. Other symptoms caused by inflammation or irritation may also subside. Headaches that occur over the back of the head, tension headaches, and migraines can be treated with a occipital nerve block.

    The steroid begins to work within three to seven days after it is injected. The effects of the steroid can last for several days and up to several months before the procedure needs to be repeated.

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    After the Procedure

    After the procedure is performed, the patient will wait in the hospital or clinic for a short recovery period. Depending on how the patient reacts to the treatment; the patient may drive home or may need to be driven. The patient is instructed to rest and do less as possible for the rest of the day.

    If the procedure went without complication, the patient may return to work the next day. They can continue normal activities as tolerated.

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    Future Occipital Nerve Block Procedures

    Future occipital nerve blocks may be performed when symptoms of pain return. A doctor usually does not like to perform more then three blocks over a six month period. Doing more than three procedure over a six month period can increase the chance of side effects and other complications.

    An initial occipital nerve block is performed. If the patient does not feel relief of their symptoms, an additional nerve block will be performed a week to two weeks later. If the patient responds to the second injection, the doctor will allow additional injections when symptoms return.

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    Risks and Side Effects

    The risks and side effects associated with this procedure are very uncommon, but with every procedure some risks may be involved. A common side effects is bleeding and a painful sensation around the injection site. This can be treated by applying a cold pack to the area until the swelling subsides.

    Other risks and side effects involved with the procedure include infection and severe bleeding. It is also possible that the block will enter other surrounding blood vessels and nerves. Although all of the mentioned risks can occur, they are very unlikely.

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    References

    Med Central Health System: Occipital Nerve Block - http://www.medcentral.org/body.cfm?id=351

    Integrative Pain Center of Arizona: Greater and Lesser Occipital Nerve Block - http://www.ipcaz.org/pages/procedures/occipital.html