Compressed or irritated occipital nerves cause occipital neuralgia, which may be due to an injury, inflammation and entrapped nerves, according to WebMD. Sometimes doctors cannot find the root cause of the condition.
Several conditions can lead to occipital neuralgia, including an injury to the back of the head, tight neck muscles, infection and blood vessel inflammation, WebMD reports. Diseases such as diabetes, gout, osteoarthritis and cervical disc disease can also cause occipital neuralgia. Neck tumors can contribute to the nerve irritation or compression.
Symptoms of occipital neuralgia can mimic migraine, so it is important for patients to obtain an accurate diagnosis to receive appropriate treatment, WebMD states. Symptoms include a sharp, intense pain in the neck and back of the head. Other symptoms include neck pain, a throbbing headache that starts at the base of the skill that spreads to the scalp and sensitivity to light.
Doctors often begin treating occipital neuralgia with self-care, WebMD says. These measures include rest, massaging the neck muscles, applying heat to the painful area and taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication. If these strategies don't relieve pain, the doctor may prescribe muscle relaxers, anitconvulsants, antidepressants and steroid injections in the problem area to block or lessen the pain.