Q & A Library

Print this page | Sign up for free e-bulletins
 | Bookmark This Page

Occipital Neuralgia: Healing Horrible Headaches?

After many years of headache pain, I recently learned from my neurologist that much of what I thought to be migraine is due to occipital neuralgia. Aside from her recommendation for muscle relaxants and yoga, what would you recommend?

Answer (Published 4/19/2010)

Occipital neuralgia causes piercing, throbbing, or electric-shock-like pain in the upper neck, back of the head, and behind the ears, usually on one side of the head. The pain typically begins in the neck and then spreads upwards. Some people also experience pain in the scalp, forehead, and behind the eyes. The scalp may even be tender to the touch, and the eyes especially sensitive to light.

Related Weil Products
Dr. Weil's Vitamin Advisor for Your Whole Body - Foods, herbs and drugs can all interact, sometimes in unexpected ways. Dr. Weil's Vitamin Advisor takes known interactions into account when developing nutritional supplement recommendations, to help safeguard against adverse effects. Learn more, and get your free, personalized Dr. Weil's Vitamin Advisor recommendation today.

The location of pain is related to areas of the head and neck served by the occipital nerves, which extend from the area where the spinal column meets the neck, up to the scalp at the back of the head. The pain stems from irritation or injury to these nerves that can be due to trauma to the back of the head, pinching of the nerves by overly tight neck muscles, compression of the nerve as it exits the spine due to osteoarthritis, or tumors or other types of lesions in the neck. Localized inflammation or infection, gout, diabetes and blood vessel inflammation (vasculitis) are also associated with occipital neuralgia, as is habitually keeping the head in a downward and forward position for long stretches at a time. Often, however, no cause can be found.

In addition to the muscle relaxants and yoga recommended by your physician, conventional treatment often includes massage and rest. My recommendation would be cranial osteopathy, an osteopathic manipulative technique that I've found extremely useful for a wide range of problems, from headaches to hyperactivity in children, disturbed sleep cycles and asthma. Cranial osteopathy works through very gentle pressure applied with the hands to the head. The aim is to free up restrictions in the movement of the cranial bones and allow the subtle natural rhythms of the central nervous system to express themselves in a balanced fashion. The American Academy of Osteopathy maintains a list of physicians trained in osteopathic manipulation.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved Creative Commons Copyright Notice
A portion of the original material created by Weil Lifestyle on (specifically, all question and answer-type articles in the Dr. Weil Q&A Library) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

The Weil Vitamin Advisor
Get your FREE personalized vitamin recommendation & supplement plan today!

Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging
Your Online Guide to the Anti-Inflammatory Diet. Start eating for your health - begin your free trial now.

Dr. Weil's Spontaneous Happiness
Achieve emotional well-being in just eight weeks! Start your 10-day free trial now!

Vitamin Library
Supplement your knowledge with Dr. Weil's essential vitamin facts. Learn why they are necessary and more.

Dr. Weil's Optimum Health Plan
Your 8-week plan to wellness.
Begin your journey today!

Dr. Weil's Head-to-Toe Wellness Guide
Your guide to natural health.
Use the Wellness Guide today!

Dr. Weil's Anti-Inflammatory Diet
Food Pyramid

Our interactive tool can help improve overall health through diet.

Condition Care Guide
Learn about health conditions from acne to vertigo, and Dr. Weil's view of the best treatment options for each.

Healthy Recipes
Discover a treasure trove of healthy, healing foods and creative, delicious ways to prepare them.

Q&A Library
Over 2,000 questions from you and their corresponding answers from Dr. Weil.

Copyright © 2015 Weil Lifestyle
Information on this web site is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional. You should not use the information on this web site for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication or other treatment.

Ad Choice
Advertising Notice

This Site and third parties who place advertisements on this Site may collect and use information about your visits to this Site and other websites in order to provide advertisements about goods and services of interest to you. If you would like to obtain more information about these advertising practices and to make choices about online behavioral advertising, please click here