Occipital Neuralgia can be More than Just a Simple Headache

Posted in Head Pain Disorders on Oct 14, 2019

Occipital Neuralgia can be More than Just a Simple Headache

Can a neck adjustment help occipital neuralgia?

Headaches are one thing, but something like occipital neuralgia is an entirely different MONSTER!

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If a common headache is like squeezing something tight around the back of your head, occipital neuralgia is more like stabbing a knife.

The especially frustrating part about occipital neuralgia is knowing what to do! At first, you probably thought it was just a headache or a migraine. Then, when you realized it was something else, you probably Googled something like “occipital neuralgia specialist Brisbane” or “occipital neuralgia treatment ... ANYTHING to help with the pain.

You may have already considered the common treatments including botox or super strong drugs like Lyrica, gabapentin, just to manage the pain. However, if you are like so many people who experience occipital neuralgia, the injections and the medications IF they work are only short-term.

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Odds are you are also the type of person who doesn’t like to take medication. You prefer natural approaches that are able to address the cause of the occipital neuralgia pain and not just the symptoms.

Don’t misunderstand me: when you need relief, do what you have to do! Just be sure that you don’t stop looking for a solution for the cause of occipital neuralgia in the first place.

So when it comes to occipital neuralgia, one of the most important places to look for the cause is in the alignment of the bones in your neck: namely the C1 (atlas), C2 (axis), and C3 vertebrae. These three bones in particular have a powerful impact on your spine, on your brainstem, and in the case of occipital neuralgia also a powerful impact on the nerves that go to the back of your head.

In this article, I want to share with you a different approach that takes care of your neck and may be able to help you if you experience occipital neuralgia.

Why occipital neuralgia occurs?

The C2 and C3 nerves in the upper part of your neck, called the upper cervical spine, supply sensation for the area along the back of your head. If these nerves are irritated for any reason, they can produce a sharp, stabbing, shooting, or burning pain across the back of your head, which is called “occipital neuralgia.”

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The question remains, “What causes these nerves to be so acutely painful?”

If you suffered a recent injury like a car accident or whiplash, it could make sense. However, if you are like so many people who experience occipital neuralgia you can’t think of anything that causes it.

That is because, in my experience, occipital neuralgia isn’t usually something that just appears overnight. It is usually the result of a process that has been building over a long period of time that finally hits the breaking point.

Think of it like a snowball. At the top of the mountain, it might just be the size of a pebble … but at the bottom of the mountain, it might be a roaring avalanche.

Consider, then, the possibility that the occipital neuralgia you are currently experiencing isn’t actually the result of something new, but actually something old. Consider the possible minor injuries to your neck that you may have experienced but that you didn’t do anything about because you “felt fine at the time” … or because “you thought the tight muscles or the stiffness or the headaches were just because you were getting older, or under a lot of stress,” or something like that.


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    •    Have you ever had a head or neck injury where you were tackled, feel hard to the ground, or knocked unconscious?

    •    Have you even fallen off something - a bike, a horse, a slide, a swing, etc - and land awkwardly on the side of your shoulder? 

    •    Have you ever smacked your head on a car door or cupboard or overhead pipe?

    •    Have you ever been in a car accident, even a minor one where your neck seized up and you couldn’t turn it for a few days?

    •    When you were born, were you a breech, prolonged, complicated, or forceps delivery (all of which can injury your neck from the moment of birth)?

You see, the joints in your neck - including the C1, C2, and C3 are designed to move approximately 1cm each. Not exceptionally large! If you suffer a nasty enough injury, you probably go to the hospital where they take an x-ray or CT scan to rule out dislocations or fractures.

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…. But what if you suffered an injury only 3mm big? Even smaller, but 30% of the normal range of any joint in your neck, And as small as it is when we’re talking about the nerves that go to your head and your brain, even something as small as 3mm can cause a major problem.


What is occipital neuralgia syndrome?

Imagine a pebble in your shoe. A small thing, but large enough to cause a friction blister and pain. 

Except now imagine that the problem is something rubbing, irritating, or squeezing one of the nerves in your neck that goes to the back of your scalp!

So let’s have a little look at a few things that can cause this physical irritation in your neck leading to occipital neuralgia.

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One possibility is that it is just tight muscles. Of note, the greater occipital nerve that supplies pain and other sensations for the back of your skull does pass through a muscle (called the semispinalis capitis) like going through a tunnel. If this particular muscle is tight enough, yes, it can produce a headache, migraine or occipital neuralgia. … But why would that muscle be tight in the first place?

Have you ever wondered why it is that you can have a massage, but then just 60 minutes later the muscles are tight tin knots again? 

It a muscle problem is simply a muscle problem, massage, exercises, and stretches will be able to fix the problem. However, if the muscle keeps tightening back up, it means that something is causing the muscle to stay tight.

And it isn’t just stress or your workstation or your computer or your phone either.

Every muscle in your body is controlled by a nerve. It is your nervous system - your brain and your spinal cord - that cause muscles to contract. Therefore, if you have “tight muscles, “ it is causing your nerves are causing it to happen.

Same with botox or other things like that that simply work on the muscle. Eventually, when the botox wears off the problems can come back just as significant as they were in the beginning

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So why would your brain want you to have tight muscles?

Well, let’s consider the other possibility, which is that you don’t have a muscle problem, but that you have a ligament or joint problem. That something has affected the axis of motion of one of the vertebrae in your neck. The result is that your brain needs to recruit your muscles to do the extra work so that your head does not (metaphorically) fall off your shoulders!

In other words, the muscles in the back of your head and your neck are in lockdown spasm because they need to be! 

If so, stretching or trying to get the muscle problem to release will not offer any long term solutions. Instead, we need to look at the structure and alignment of your spine itself to discover the underlying issues.

Occipital neuralgia symptoms.

If you experience occipital neuralgia, odds are that it is not the only symptom that you experience. It is because occipital neuralgia isn’t really just a muscle or even a nerve problem: it is a fundamental health problem that has simply built to such a point that it is producing this intense, ship pain in the back of your head.

So be honest with yourself: what other symptoms do you experience or HAVE you experienced that you never really addressed? Let me share with you some of the common ones that we often see with people who experience occipital neuralgia.


    •    Neck sprains. Episodic events where your neck tweaks, and then goes into spam where you can’t turn it properly. Often, this reflects the underlying lack of movement through the joints in your neck that cause the muscle fibers to go “ping” like snapping a guitar string. Even if it is only a microscopic tear, your brain - in an effort to protect you - causes the whole thing to go into lockdown, which is both painful and annoying.

    •    Jaw problems. Sometimes the jaw is the problem, creating the occipital neuralgia. Now, that’s a very advanced topic - one that I’d be happy to discuss with you personally if you have any questions - but most often what I see are problems that people have with their temples and jaws that also affect the connective tissue around the back of the head. It’s all connected!

    •    Anxiety, depression, and sleeping problems. Now, this is a chicken-and-egg scenario. Any person who experiences a significant amount of pain is apt to feel down and stressed. It is an abnormal person who doesn’t! Then if the occipital neuralgia is preventing you from sleeping properly, it is like an amplifier for everything else.

I still remember the first case of occipital neuralgia I worked with: she was a 55-year-old lady who hadn’t been able to sleep more than 2 hours at a given time for 14 years!

If you experience 12 different symptoms in your body, it doesn’t make sense that you have 12 different things going on. Odds are that you have only 1 thing going on that is simply showing up in 12 different ways: occipital neuralgia being just one of them.

You see, something like occipital neuralgia is usually not something that just appears. It is the evolution of a problem that changes and keeps getting louder until you can’t ignore it anymore.


Can chiropractic offer occipital neuralgia treatment?

If you don’t really know the difference between a massage therapist, a physiotherapist, an osteopath, and a chiropractor, I don’t blame you.

(Honestly, I don’t think that many professionals know the difference either!) It’s because the lines get blurred around the edges as there is some overlap among them all. However, let me share with you the pure essence of each profession so that you know what each is working to achieve:

    •    Massage Therapist  - to release muscle tension  (provided that there is no underlying nerve issue causing the muscle to re-tighten)

    •    Physiotherapist - to strengthen weak or damaged muscles and ligaments (i.e., rehab or the treatment of physical conditions such as occipital neuralgia treatment)

    •    Osteopath - to improve blood flow in the body through the use of long-lever manipulation

    •    Chiropractor - to improve nerve function in the body through the use of short-lever adjustments

… What do I mean by “long-lever” and “short-lever?”

Leverage means using some part of the body in order to move something else. In the case of spinal manipulation, a long-lever means that one push causes 8 different things to release (or “crack” as is often the sound when a joint in the spine releases). On the other hand, a short-lever means that one move causes only 1 thing to move.

In other words, the latter is more precise and often less jarring to the rest of the body.

Between chiropractic and osteopathy, the lines are exceptionally blurry. I completed my doctoral degree in the USA where both chiropractic (Iowa) and osteopathy (Missouri) were founded. Without getting into the long history of it all, what I know as “osteopathy” is the way that “chiropractic” is commonly practiced here in Australia, and visa versa.

Now, I can’t speak for everyone, but what I can share with you is who WE are, what we have to offer in terms of help for people with occipital neuralgia, and how we do things.


What is the best chiropractic technique for occipital neuralgia?

It’s a fair question, albeit one that doesn’t have a 100% absolute answer. The best that I can share with you is how the approach that we use, called a Blair upper cervical adjustment, may be able to help if you are experiencing occipital neuralgia.

At Atlas Health Australia, we are an upper cervical Specific Health Clinic, located in North Lakes to provide Narangba chiropractor services plus care for people looking for atlas chiropractic Brisbane in general.

We emphasize the word “specific” because everything we do is individualized and detailed in order to provide the highest quality of care possible. The procedure we use is called a Blair upper cervical corrections, and there is no twisting, cracking, or manipulation.

We use specific neurological testing that allows us to measure the health of your nervous system, and we also perform specialized 3D x-ray images that allow us to see the structure and alignment of the bones in your neck in high-definition. 

These tests often help us discover things that many occipital neuralgia specialists have not: even with CTs and MRIs. You see, everyone’s bone structure is different. You are different from everyone else! So does it make sense that you can just do the same thing as everyone else and get a solution that will work for you?

The images that we take show us the exact direction and degree of any misalignment in your upper neck. Without letting the cat out of the bag, the SINGLE MOST COMMON THING that we find among people who experience occipital neuralgia is that the alignment of the bones in the upper part of their necks - the C1, C2, or C3 - have actually shifted FORWARDS.

So let’s think about it for a second: for all the people you’ve seen who have worked on your neck to help the symptoms of occipital neuralgia … were they working from the BACK of your neck or from the FRONT? And were they working to move or push something FORWARDS or BACKWARDS?

As I’m sure you can appreciate that obvious detail may be critical in achieving any long-lasting relief from occipital neuralgia … but has anyone considered that before?


Chiropractic occipital neuralgia specialist near me?

That is the reason we perform the tests we do. We don’t base your care on the name of your condition. We base it on the nature of the underlying condition that you have. And when we know that, we may be able to step up the probability of getting a favorable outcome for you.

In that way, we say it explicitly that we are not what you would categorize as an occipital neuralgia specialist. Our area of expertise is simply in the alignment of your upper neck (the atlas and axis and the C3 vertebra).

Nevertheless, if by correcting any misalignments at these levels of your body, e are able to help take the pressure off of the nerves (ie., taking the pebble out of your shoe), we may be able to offer relief from occipital neuralgia. 

This is who we are and what we offer.

I hope in this article we’ve been able to offer you some valuable information, but also a different direction for you to take in your search for answers for occipital neuralgia. Yes, it is one of the most awful syndromes that any human being can experience, and in any way, if there is something we are able to do to help, we will do our best.

Our office is located in North Lakes, providing chiropractic services for the local communities of Mango Hill, Dakabin, Narangba, Griffin, Murrumba Downs, and Burpengary. We are also the first, and still, only Brisbane chiropractic center offering specific upper cervical care for the alignment of the top bones in the neck and its potential to help occipital neuralgia. We are available for consultation and have also seen people from across Australia, NSW, and southeast Asia.

If you would like to schedule 15-minute complimentary consultation with Dr. Jeffrey Hannah, our resident upper cervical chiropractor, and advanced certified Blair practitioner, you can call us at 07 3188 9329 or click the “Contact Us” icon on this page. We will be happy to have a chat, to answer any questions you may have, and to assist in any way that we can.

Take care of your neck and start living life again!



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