Occipital Neuralgia: Symptoms & Signs

Medically Reviewed on 2/7/2020

Occipital neuralgia is a condition that causes intense pain in the back of the head and neck.

Signs and symptoms of occipital neuralgia include

  • an aching, burning, and throbbing pain that typically starts at the base of the head and goes to the scalp,
  • pain on one or both sides of the head,
  • pain behind the eye,
  • sensitivity to light,
  • tenderness of the scalp, and
  • pain when moving the neck.

Cause of occipital neuralgia

An inflammation of the nerves that leave the spine and travel up the back of the head to the scalp causes occipital neuralgia. The exact cause for the injury or inflammation of the nerves is not always found, but tight muscles or nerve entrapment due to other causes may play a role.

Other occipital neuralgia symptoms and signs

  • An Aching, Burning, and Throbbing Pain That Typically Starts at the Base of the Head and Goes to the Scalp
  • Pain Behind the Eye
  • Pain on One or Both Sides of the Head
  • Pain When Moving the Neck
  • Sensitivity to Light
  • Tenderness of the Scalp


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Jameson, J. Larry, et al. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 20th Ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Education, 2018.