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Occipital Nerve Block

There are two occipital nerves — one on each side of the head — that help transmit feeling from the back and top of the head to the brain. They run from the top of the spinal cord at the base of the neck up through the scalp. Occipital neuralgia is a neurological condition in which these nerves become injured or inflamed.

An occipital nerve block can be used to confirm a diagnosis as well as intermittently for therapeutic relief.

How it Works

  • An occipital nerve block is performed by palpation, meaning that your physician will identify the location of the occipital nerve by feel.
  • You will be asked to either sit up or lay on your stomach, depending on your physician’s preference.
  • The back of your head will be cleaned with an antiseptic, and a sterile drape will be placed. 
  • Your physician will then direct a guide needle toward the intended area.
  • A local anesthetic and a steroid (cortisone) will be administered close to the occipital nerve to block signals from reaching the brain. The cortisone serves as an anti-inflammatory.
  • The needle is then flushed and withdrawn, and a dressing is placed over the point of needle entry.


This procedure is safe. However, with any procedure, there are risks, side effects and the possibility of complications. The most common side effect is temporary pain at the injection site. Other less common risks include bleeding or infection. Fortunately, serious side effects and complications are extremely uncommon.