Occipital Nerve Stimulation for Headache Relief

About Occipital Nerve Stimulation

Chronic headaches affect up to 5 percent of Americans, resuting in tremendous dependence on drugs for pain relief. Over time, however, relying on persistent drug use can have damaging impact on internal organs affecting one’s lifespan. Consequently, headache researchers have tried to find therapies that can reduce the frequency and intensity of headaches without dependence on drugs.

Occipital Nerve Stimulation (ONS) was first used to treat headaches in 1977 as an experimental procedure. While there are many unknowns about the efficacy of ONS, it has emerged over time as a potential treatment option for patients with chronic headaches, including migraine and cluster headache which can be disabling.

While the “mechanism of action” is debated, it is thought that Occipital Nerve Stimulation restores the balance within the impaired central pain system.

A six year retrospective study by headache researches in the Journal of Headache & Pain, confirmed that ONS was successful in reducing the rate of chronic headaches. The researches found that some types of headaches respond better to ONS than others. One other study found that 40 percent of patients with migraines experienced relief through ONS.

How Occipital Nerve Stimulation works

The occipital nerve is located at the base of the neck. During the occipital nerve stimulation procedure, the neurosurgeon implants a small medical device at the base of the skull. The device is connected to an external pulse generator which may be implanted under the collarbone, that sends electrical impulses to the occipital nerve.