What is a Nerve Block and How It is Used to Treat Migraines?

By: Madeleine Katzinger

What is a Nerve Block?
 
Traditionally, migraine headaches are thought to be caused by a condition in the brain itself or a neurological disorder.  However, new studies done in recent years demonstrate that other areas in the head may be trigger points for migraine headaches. Increasingly, plastic surgeons are becoming important helpers for people who do not experience relief of their migraines after pursuing traditional remedies.  
 
Success stories of migraine relief through injections of Botox have renewed an interest in finding other causes of migraine headaches.  Four trigger sites have been found.  One of these is along the course of the greater occipital nerve.  The occipital nerve is found at the back of the head, above the neck.  The greater occipital nerve has been described as piercing several muscles along its length.  Any one of these intersections of nerve and muscle could serve as a source of compression or irritation of the nerve.
 
What is an Occipital Nerve Block?
 
An occipital nerve block is an injection of medication around the nerves that are located on the back of the head just above the neck area.  The injection will reduce the inflammation of the muscle around the nerve.   This in turn will reduce pain and irritation that can act as a trigger for migraine headaches.  Typically, migraine headaches that originate over the back of the head will be best treated by an occipital nerve block.  Usually the first injection is viewed as a diagnostic test rather than a treatment. The first nerve block will help define the trigger point of the migraine.    
 
Talking to Your Physician
 
Before you choose a surgeon for your migraine treatment, meet with the surgeon.  Ask questions about the procedure.  Make sure you feel comfortable with the surgeon.  Getting to know your surgeon will go far in assuaging fears, and you'll feel better about choosing a surgeon who inspires confidence.  Also, keeping a detailed headache journal will be valuable for when you speak with your physician.  Record things such as times, dates, and the duration of your headaches.  Keep track of symptoms and side effects of each migraine such as nausea, vomiting, aura or non-aura, and levels and placement of pain.  Also note any migraine drugs taken, the amount of drugs used, and if these drugs were successful in reducing migraine pain.  Being familiar with your migraines will help your surgeon to determine how to best help eliminate your migraines.

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