Become Pain Free Now

Physical Therapy for Occipital Neuralgia – Information, Exercises, and More


Are you experiencing painful tension in your neck and head as a result of occipital neuralgia?

It’s a debilitating condition that you can’t ignore or take lightly because it affects the quality of your life day-to-day.

But there is good news — you can get relief from your chronic pain with physical therapy for occipital neuralgia.

In this article, you will learn more about occipital neuralgia and how physical therapy can help you get back on the road to recovery.


What Is Occipital Neuralgia?

Occipital neuralgia is a type of neuralgia that affects the occipital region of the brain

This area is responsible for one’s vision and can be affected by several factors, including:

  • Injury
  • Infection; and
  • Disease

Occipital neuralgia can be quite painful and debilitating, and often requires treatment from a physical therapist.


What Causes Occipital Neuralgia?

Occipital neuralgia is a type of neuralgia that results from irritation or compression of the nerve fibers along the back of the head and neck.

There is a small percentage of people who suffer from occipital neuralgia due to genetic disorders that affect the nervous system.

However, the most common causes of occipital neuralgia are:

  • A herniated disc
  • Stroke or tumor; and
  • Trauma to the head or neck area

Herniated Disc

A herniated disc — a bulging or prolapsed disk in the spine — can cause occipital neuralgia.

Herniated discs are most commonly caused by sports injuries, but other accidents or conditions can also cause them, such as:

People who have herniated discs typically feel pain and pressure in the back of their head and neck.

Stroke or Tumor

Tumors and strokes often involve compression of nerve fibers in the head or neck area because:

  • Strokes can cause damage to the brain and spinal cord; and
  • Tumors near the brain or spinal cord can cause pressure on the nerve fibers

The risk of occipital neuralgia increases at age 50.

It is most common in people who have a herniated disc or stroke.

Trauma to the Head or Neck

Trauma to the head or neck can also be one cause of occipital neuralgia. 

Examples of trauma that can cause occipital neuralgia to include:

  • A fall from a height
  • A car accident; or
  • A head injury

If you are experiencing occipital neuralgia, it is important to see a doctor as soon as possible to determine the cause and get treatment.


Occipital Neuralgia Symptoms

Symptoms of occipital neuralgia pain typically occur on one side of the head and may radiate down the arm or neck — and may worsen when you move your head or turn your neck.

More specific symptoms that people often experience with occipital neuralgia include:

  • Pain in the temple or behind the eyes
  • Numbness or tingling in the face, neck, or arms; and
  • Weakness or paralysis on one side of the face

Let’s take a closer look at each one of these common symptoms.

Pain Behind the Eyes or Temple

Occipital neuralgia may cause a type of pain that is felt in the temple or behind the eyes that is described as:

  • Tingling
  • Burning; or
  • A pins and needles sensation

The pain can be severe and last for hours. 

Numbness or Tingling in the Face, Neck, or Arms

Occipital neuralgia can also cause numbness or tingling in the face, neck, and arms.

The numbness or tingling can be mild or severe, and it may spread to other parts of the body and cause the following conditions:

If you experience any numbness or tingling in the face, neck, or arms, see a doctor as soon as possible.

Weakness or Paralysis on One Side of the Face

Occipital neuralgia can also cause weakness or paralysis on one side of the face.

This may make it difficult to:

  • Speak
  • Eat,
  • Drink; and
  • Move facial muscles

If not treated, this condition can lead to permanent damage to the face.

Occipital Neuralgia Treatment

Treatment for occipital neuralgia typically involves …

  • Surgery
  • Physical therapy; and
  • Medication

… to help relieve pain and improve function.

There is no one cure for occipital neuralgia, but medical professionals may recommend treatments based on the cause of the pain.


Surgery may be necessary to remove the offending object or condition that is causing occipital neuralgia, which could include:

Various surgeries may treat occipital neuralgia with laminectomy and decompression procedures.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy may help improve function in people with occipital neuralgia by helping to:

  • Reduce pain and improve mobility
  • Improve balance and coordination; and
  • Strengthen muscles around the head and neck 

Physical therapy may also be effective for recovery after an occipital neuralgia surgical procedure.


Doctors may prescribe medication to control symptoms that accompany occipital neuralgia.

There is no one-size-fits-all medication, as it will vary depending on an individual’s specific situation and health condition.

However, some common medications used to treat occipital neuralgia include:

It is important to speak with a doctor about the best course of treatment for each person’s situation.

Can PT Help Occipital Neuralgia?

Physical therapy can help people with occipital neuralgia by improving …

  • Range of motion
  • Strength; and
  • Flexibility

… of the muscles around the neck. This can help reduce pain and improve function.

Best Occipital Neuralgia Exercises

Physical therapy for occipital neuralgia may include exercises to stretch and strengthen the muscles around the head and neck, as well as heat or cold treatments.

The best occipital neuralgia exercises incorporate:

Those recovering from occipital neuralgia can do exercises like these at home or in a physical therapy setting.

Range of Motion Exercises

This type of exercise helps to restore range of motion and flexibility in the:

  • Neck
  • Shoulders; and
  • Upper back

Range of motion exercises can help to relieve pain and improve decreased function that is caused by occipital neuralgia.

Neck Flexion/Extension Exercises

Neck flexion and extension exercises help to stretch and lengthen the muscles around the neck, head, and arms.

Examples of stretching exercises include:

  • Shoulder rolls
  • Arm circles; and
  • Neck stretches

Similar to the range of motion exercises, neck flexion and extension exercises can also help to relieve neck pain and improve function.

Resistance Band Exercises

Resistance band exercises are a great way to improve your occipital neuralgia symptoms.

Some examples of exercises that are helpful for physical therapy include: 

These exercises help to stretch and strengthen the muscles surrounding the nerve, which can help to reduce pain.

How In Motion O.C. Can Help With Occipital Neuralgia

In Motion O.C. offers treatments and exercises specific to occipital neuralgia to help you feel better.

Our physical therapists have helped many people deal with recovery and pain relief from various ailments.

In Motion O.C. is #1 among physical therapy clinics in the United States and our testimonials and case studies can prove it.

Our therapists will work with you one-on-one to determine the best approach for your recovery.

Contact In Motion O.C. today to set up your appointment.

In Motion O.C.