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Occipital Release Surgery

surgery for pinched nerves

Occipital neuralgia is most commonly caused by pinched, inflamed or injured occipital nerves, which run from the base of your neck to your scalp. Irritation of one of these nerves anywhere along its course can cause a shooting, zapping, electric or tingling pain. Sometimes people confuse their symptoms of occipital neuralgia with a migraine or tension headache. Because treatments for occipital neuralgia are different than those for headaches, it is important to visit your doctor for a diagnosis.

Occipital Release Surgery: What You Need to Know

  • Diagnosis may be made by a physical examination to find tenderness in response to pressure along your occipital nerve. There is not one test to diagnose occipital neuralgia.
  • Imaging tests such as an MRI or computed tomography (CT) scan may be ordered by your doctor to search for the underlying cause of occipital neuralgia.
  • Nonsurgical occipital nerve treatment options can include medications or injections, and a set of three steroid injections such as botulinum toxin to calm down the inflamed nerves. Some patients respond well to nonsurgical options and may not require surgery; however, some patients do not get relief and may eventually require surgical treatment.
  • Surgical options include occipital release surgery. In this outpatient procedure, your doctor makes an incision in the back of the neck to expose your occipital nerves and release them from the surrounding connective tissue and muscles that may be compressing them. 
  • The procedure generally lasts about two or three hours. You will be given general anesthesia and can go home the same day. Full recovery is generally expected within one or two weeks.

Learn more about occipital neuralgia.


Why choose Johns Hopkins?

Our occipital release surgeons are knowledgeable about, and in many cases developed and taught, the latest and most effective surgical techniques. In addition, because they work at Johns Hopkins, they can call on any other kind of medical experts needed right at the facility, from neurologists to pediatricians.

Our surgeons are devoted to their profession and to providing attentive patient care. From the first consultation to the final checkup, they make themselves available and accessible to patients and their families. A first of its kind clinical trial at Johns Hopkins aims to define best practices in occipital release surgery. Speak to your doctor to learn more or to participate.


Our Specialty Center

The Johns Hopkins Headache Center is committed to headache research and providing individualized care to select patients with headaches or facial pain disorders.

Our Occipital Release Surgeons

Our surgeons specialize in occipital release surgical options including nerve decompression surgery for migraines.

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