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What is an occipital nerve block procedure?

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An occipital nerve block is a procedure that uses a special type of injection to numb one or both of the occipital nerves that originate in a patient's back in order to reduce the pain she feels along the back of her head and scalp, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. This procedure is also used to diagnose a patient's head or back pain.

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An occipital nerve block is a very safe and temporary procedure, states Johns Hopkins Medicine. Most people who get one report one-sided head pain that most often occurs in the back of the head. Patients with burning, stinging, shooting or zapping pain often respond best to the procedure. Some patients who report frequent migraines and cluster headaches also see benefits from the procedure.

Patients need not make special preparations before their procedure, states Johns Hopkins Medicine. Before the procedure, the patient is asked to lie down on an examination table so that the back of the head can be cleaned. Then, a mixture of anesthetic and steroids is injected into the scalp using a thin needle. If performed properly, a patient's pain should go away within minutes, at which point the doctor asks the patient how this has affected her pain. Over the next several hours, the numbness wears off, and if inflammation is one of the root causes of a patient's pain, the steroid continues to work over the next several days, sometimes controlling pain for weeks or months afterward.

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