Occipital nerve stimulation
Occipital nerve stimulation is a type of neuromodulation which uses electrical stimulation to alter the activity of certain nerves. Occipital nerve stimulation specifically targets nerves in the head and neck to relieve headaches and facial pain.
Occipital nerve stimulation can be used to treat chronic headaches (headaches that occur for more than 15 days a month, for longer than three months) that have not responded to previous treatments.
It can also be used for neuralgia or neuropathic pain, which is caused by damage or injury to the nerves. This type of pain may not respond to normal painkillers like paracetamol, or anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen.
Occipital nerve stimulation has also been shown to be effective in treating chronic migraines and cluster headaches (sudden, excruciating headaches that usually affect one side of the head and eyes, and occur in short bursts of time).
How is it performed and what is involved?
Occipital nerve stimulation involves implanting a small electrical device, similar to a pacemaker, under the skin on the chest. This is connected to tiny electrical wires (electrodes), which are placed under the skin around the back of the head.
Electrical impulses are sent through the electrodes to specific nerves. These impulses are not usually noticeable but can occasionally cause a tingling sensation.
There are many theories as to exactly how occipital nerve stimulation improves pain, but it is thought to work by stopping overactive nerves carrying pain signals to the brain.
A trial period is carried out before permanently implanting the device. This involves connecting the electrodes to an external electrical device. The patient keeps a pain diary for approximately a week.
The permanent device is only implanted if a significant improvement in pain is reported. Positioning of the temporary trial device involves minor day case surgery, while implanting a permanent device will usually require a one to two night hospital stay. Patients are taught how to operate the device themselves. This includes how to adjust the amount of stimulation, charge the device and prevent it getting damaged. Our specialist teams will follow up with each patient and stay in close contact with them following the procedure.
What are the risks?
Implanting the occipital nerve stimulation system is relatively safe with a low rate of complications. As with every surgery, there are some potential risks to consider. These include:
- Infection in the area where the system is implanted
- Movement or dislodging of the electrodes
- Excessive bleeding from wounds
- Failure of the stimulator device
- Failure to improve pain, or in some very rare cases, an increase in pain
- Allergic reaction to any drugs given during the procedure.
Our expert surgeons here at The London Clinic and their experienced teams make every effort to minimise these risks. They will be able to fully discuss the general risks of occipital nerve stimulation and any specific risks to individual patients beforehand.
How effective is it?
Occipital nerve stimulation does not cure the source of the pain but it can help block the pain signals from reaching the brain.
Treatment response varies between individuals but several studies have shown that patients using occipital nerve stimulation treatment have a reduction in the number of days with headache, intensity of pain and pain-associated disability.
The use of occipital nerve stimulation in the treatment of migraines has shown a 50% reduction in the intensity of the pain.
Why choose The London Clinic
Excellence in one place
We operate as teams of experts with world-class resources dedicated to maintaining the highest standards of medical care. You are surrounded by the latest treatments and advice with everything you need to get back to your best health.
Personal care, every time
Exceptional patient care is a way of life for us. Our nurses, clinicians and support teams are dedicated to the care of a very small number of patients, so have more time for you. They’ll be with you every step of the way, tailoring your care around you and giving the peace-of-mind that comes with knowing you’re in the best hands.
We work together as one to guide you through each step of your experience, with complexities unravelled and answers readily to hand. Your personal treatment plan will be laid out for you, with all the details taken care of so you can focus on you.
What's included in your package?
Choosing The London Clinic means your treatment plan will be laid out for you, with all the details taken care of so you can focus on you.
Your treatment package will include:
- Enhanced pre-admission assessment
- Your treatment with our complete care team at your fingertips
- Personalised aftercare and follow-up
We want you to be in control of your health. That’s why we also offer optional services such as comprehensive recovery packages and extra touches for you to choose from during your stay with us.
How to pay
- You can use private medical insurance (PMI) to access this treatment. We work with all major PMI providers in the UK and many internationally
- You can pay for yourself (self-pay)
- If you’re paying for yourself, we have finance options available with Chrysalis