What causes occipital neuralgia?

Steven A. Meyers, MD
Diagnostic Radiology
Occipital neuralgia is believed to be due to irritation of one of the occipital nerves in the upper neck/back of the head. In most cases, no specific cause can be found. Many cases are believed to be related to chronic muscle spasm in the neck. Occipital neuralgia may be seen after neck injuries such as experienced in rear end car collisions. Rarely, a tumor could compress the nerve.

You have a pair of occipital nerves running from the back of your neck to your scalp. When one of these nerves gets damaged or becomes aggravated, it can cause occipital neuralgia. The cause of the condition can be hard to determine, but the following factors may play a role:

  • pinched nerves;
  • neck injury or injury to the back of the head;
  • tight muscles;
  • osteoarthritis;
  • gout;
  • surgery;
  • infection;
  • diabetes;
  • tumors;
  • swelling of blood vessels.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.