What Is Occipital Nerve Stimulation?

Valerie Goldberg
Valerie Goldberg

Occipital nerve stimulation is a surgical procedure used to reduce chronic migraine symptoms in patients who have pain radiating from the greater and lesser occipital nerves. A candidate for occipital nerve stimulation is a person who has suffered from chronic headaches for several years and has been unable to find relief from other treatments. This procedure involves an electrode being implanted into a patient so that electric currents can be applied to the occipital nerves to lessen pain. A patient will be given a remote control after surgery to help regulate when the nerve blocking waves are sent and how strong the pulses are.

People who have cluster headaches, chronic migraines and other head-related nerve injures might be able to find relief through occipital nerve stimulation. Most doctors will recommend this surgery only for a person who has tried all other treatment options, including medications and nerve blocks. If more common treatments are not effective, occipital nerve stimulation might be a chance for a suffering individual to have a higher quality of life.

It is standard procedure for patients to undergo an occipital nerve stimulation trial before getting the permanent implant. The trial usually lasts about two weeks. If the patient is happy with how the trial is going, the doctor usually will allow the lasting procedure to go forward.

Implanting the device into the body is done under anesthesia and usually requires a two-day hospital stay. Full recovery time from the surgery is usually about seven weeks. During this time, patients typically are advised to take it easy. A doctor will schedule a follow-up appointment with each patient to see how he or she is healing and to give the patient permission to resume normal activities. A medical professional also can help a patient to figure out how to use his or her remote control.

The procedure is not a cure for migraines, but it does help many people reduce their pain levels so that they can function better and lead more active lives. A doctor usually will monitor a patient's progress with the device at least once a year. Occipital nerve stimulation can help patients reduce the amount of oral pain medications that they take over time. Some patients who respond exceptionally well to the procedure might eventually be able to stop using pain pills altogether.

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