Causes of Occipital Neuralgia Headache After Auto Collisions
Occipital neuralgia is a type of headache caused by inflammation or injury to the occipital nerves, which run from the top of the spinal cord—at the base of the neck—upwards, through the scalp. This can cause a sharp pain in the back of the neck and head. Often, the symptoms are very similar to a migraine.
The occipital nerves may become compressed or irritated as the result of trauma, such as that sustained in an auto collision. Many medical conditions are also associated with occipital neuralgia. There are a number of pain relief methods used to treat the symptoms of occipital neuralgia, including medications, chiropractic care, and surgery. Proper treatment depends on accurate diagnosis of this condition, which is often confused with migraine-type headaches.
These inflamed nerves typically have an increase in crosssectional area when compared with asymptomatic nerves. A recent study sought to measure both symptomatic and asymptomatic occipital nerves, and to correlate occipital nerve size with sex, body mass index, and headache severity.
A total of 53 patients with suboccipital headaches underwent sonographic scans to measure the cross-sectional area and circumference of the greater occipital nerve. The researchers found significant differences in size between symptomatic and asymptomatic occipital nerves. This finding is consistent with typical swelling of peripheral neuropathy, but to the researchers' knowledge, had not been reported previously. There was also a significant correlation between body mass index and both symptomatic and asymptomatic occipital nerve areas. No difference existed in nerve measurements between male and female patients, and no correlation between nerve measurements and headache severity.
Further research could include examining the sonographic crosssectional area of the occipital nerve in other types of headaches, such as migraines. In addition, studies monitoring the response of the nerve to treatments could lead to refinement in the diagnosis and treatment of occipital neuralgia.
Chin-Suk Cho J, and et al. Sonographic evaluation of the greater occipital nerve in unilateral occipital neuralgia. Journal of Ultrasound Medicine 2012; 31: 37-42.