Thursday, 6 May 2010

Day 500 - Occipital Neuralgia

“Occipital neuralgia is a term used to describe a cycle of pain-spasm-pain originating from the suboccipital area (base) of the skull that often radiates to the back, front, and side of the head, as well as behind the eyes.

The occipital nerves are two pairs of nerves that originate in the area of the second and third vertebrae of the neck. While most people's nerve roots originate in similar places on the spine, cadaver studies show a wide variety of differences between individuals as to the course of the nerves once they leave the spinal column. Often the nerves follow a curving course that passes through various muscles in the upper back, neck and head.

These nerves supply areas of the skin along the base of the skull and partially behind the ear. While the occipital nerves do not directly connect with structures within the skull itself, they do interconnect with other nerves outside of the skull and form a continuous neural network that can affect any given area through which any of the main nerves or their branch fibers pass.

Occipital neuralgia occurs more often in women than men. It can have many causes such as trauma (a direct blow or "whiplash"); spinal column compression; nerve lesions; localized infections or inflammation; gout; diabetes; blood vessel inflammation; and local tumors.

Commonly, the nerves are inflamed and sensitive because they are trapped within the muscles through which they pass. Muscle spasm and pain are often associated with nerve entrapment, which causes localized pain, spasm and muscle cramping.

Symptoms include the following:

- Headaches that are localized or following a "ram's horn" pattern on the side of the head, often starting in the upper neck or base of the skull. It can be one-sided or on both sides.
- Scalp that is tender to the touch, often hypersensitive. Even brushing your hair can be a painful experience.
- Pain or pressure behind the eyes. Eyes are very sensitive to light especially when the headache is present.

Many conditions can show symptoms similar to those found with occipital neuralgia. Treatment of occipital neuralgia may involve oral medications that are designed to reduce inflammation and spasms, localized therapeutic injections, physical therapy, massage, and heat.”*
I thought I would post something on occipital neuralgia as someone recently mentioned looking into this condition. My type of headache doesn’t seem to correspond to that described above, in particular as I do not suffer from muscle spasms. One reader of this blog recently commented on the hemicrania continua post about having an indescribably severe headache which manifests itself with severe muscle spasms. Occipital neuralgia could be something he could look into if he hasn’t yet. His story nearly brought me to tears.

The number of comments recently posted on my blog under the hemicrania continua post go to show how many people seem to suffer from this condition. Sadly most of the people who I have been in touch with have not as yet had much relief from the medicines they were prescribed. I still remain convinced (and I am sure many of you do) that there must be an intricate reason for the onset and continuation of our headaches. What this is, in my case, as no doubt in many others, still remains a mystery.

There have been a few days in which the headache has flared up, and every time I manage to forget how bad it can get. Being tired doesn’t help. Sleeping too much doesn’t seem to help either. Finding a constant balance is what I need to do. I also got a bit of a cold the other day which revived the headache, making it thump away - although that was a ‘cold headache’ on top of the ‘normal’ headache.

It has now been nearly a year and a half.

Compared to others who have commented on my blog, it’s no time at all. What is my body trying to tell me? What is going on in there? Sometimes I wish I could just crack my head open and see what’s going on.

The kinesiologist was not around when I was back in the UK so I did not manage to see him this time round. I went for some acupuncture - the acupuncturist always manages to pinpoint the pain and stick a needle right in it; as the needle enters that part of my head, my head feels like a balloon deflating. The pain remains but in some ways I feel like I have caught it, pinpointed it, willing to stab it and kill it once and for all. But, alas, it perseveres.