Nerve blocks are a treatment option for a variety of causes of pain. This treatment involves injecting a nerve-numbing substance directly into the area around a nerve in order to stop the pain. Nerve blocks can treat migraine headaches and pain in specific areas of the body such as the jaw, pelvis, and abdomen.

A person feels pain when specific nerves in their body send information to the brain. These nerves are able to detect tissue damage, which they transmit to the brain via the spinal cord.

Once a person’s brain receives the message from the nerves, it processes it, and the person feels pain.

Nerve blocks are a treatment option for pain where a medical professional injects a nerve-numbing substance into the nerves in order to stop them from sending these signals to the brain.

In this article, we discuss nerve blocks for migraine headaches, outlining the procedure, its side effects, and other useful information.

A person resting their head on a chalkboard who may have migraine headaches.Share on Pinterest
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A nerve block is a simple procedure that a doctor or medical professional will carry out. They inject a solution into the area that surrounds specific nerves in a person’s body.

The solution varies, however, it most commonly contains a long-acting local anesthetic combined with a steroid anti-inflammatory drug.

This substance then prevents the nerve from sending signals to the brain. In doing so, it stops the person from feeling certain pains.

There are a number of different nerve blocks. Here are two that doctors use to treat migraine headaches:

Occipital nerve blocks

The occipital nerve runs from the back of the head, upwards, and over the top of the head. It is responsible for most of the feeling in the back and top of the head.

An occipital nerve block is a common treatment for headaches, including migraine headaches. Doctors use this treatment to reduce the frequency and severity of migraine headaches.

To carry out this procedure, a medical professional injects pain-relieving medication and steroids into either the greater or lesser occipital nerve. This numbs the nerve and can stop the person from experiencing the pain that a migraine headache is causing.

Doctors use occipital nerve blocks to treat the following migraine and headache conditions:

  • Migraine headaches: These are intense headaches that usually start on one side of the head and can cause nausea and dizziness.
  • Cluster headaches: These are the most severe and painful form of primary headaches that occur in clusters.
  • Occipital neuralgia: This is a headache disorder that causes shooting pains in the back of the head, the neck, and behind the ears.

Supraorbital nerve block

The supraorbital nerve forms the frontal branch of the ophthalmic nerve. The ophthalmic nerve is responsible for the feeling in the face and skull above the opening of the eyelids, as well as the eyes and parts of the nasal cavity.

The supraorbital nerve is responsible for the feeling in the front of the scalp, forehead, upper eyelid, and the root of the nose.

A supraorbital nerve block is similar to an occipital nerve block.

A medical professional pierces the skin just below the eyebrow with the needle of a syringe and injects pain-relieving medication and steroids into the area around the supraorbital nerve.

Doctors use supraorbital nerve blocks to treat other pains and conditions in addition to migraine. These include:

  • cluster headaches
  • pain relief from burns or abrasions to the skin
  • pain from shingles
  • pain relief during the repair of complex lacerations
  • pain relief during the removal of foreign objects from the body
  • neuralgia
  • pain relief during and after upper eyelid surgery

According to the American Headache Society, a person will begin to feel pain relief within 15 minutes of the procedure.

The pain relief can then last for a period of a few days, up to 8–12 weeks.

The majority of research examines the effectiveness of occipital nerve blocks on migraine headaches. However, according to a 2021 article, a 26-year-old pregnant person found that their migraine headaches improved with a combination of nerve blocks that included a supraorbital nerve block.

According to the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS), occipital nerve blocks work for approximately 60% of people with migraine. These nerve blocks may be even more effective for other types of headache.

The group also notes that 35% of people with migraine do not experience improvements in their headaches, and for 5% of people, their headaches may temporarily worsen for a few days or a week.

One 2019 study looked at the effectiveness of occipital nerve blocks for treating migraine headaches. A total of 190 patients who had experienced migraine headaches were given occipital nerve blocks as a treatment.

The researchers found that 27% of the people reported significant or immediate pain relief, and 42% of the people experienced a reduction in pain. Only 3% of the people in the study reported an adverse reaction.

Another 2018 retrospective cohort study looked at how effective occipital nerve blocks were for treating migraine headaches. A total of 562 patients participated in the study over a 5-year period.

Over 82% of the participants reported having moderate or significant pain relief after their occipital nerve block treatment.

One 2019 review of nine studies stated that greater occipital nerve blocks significantly reduced the frequency of migraine headaches compared to a control group.

Nerve blocks are suitable for most people. However, the following individuals may want to speak with a healthcare professional before undergoing the procedure:

  • people with diabetes
  • people that are taking blood-thinning drugs
  • people who have a heart condition
  • people who currently have an infection

A person cannot have a nerve block procedure if they are allergic to any of the medications that the doctor may use.

A person may experience a lump at the injection site that should resolve without intervention.

A person may also experience one of the following side effects:

  • bleeding or bruising at the point of injection
  • allergic reactions
  • numbness, which can be temporary or permanent
  • infection

On very rare occasions, a person may experience a small area of hair loss. There is also a small risk of nerve damage during this procedure.

Nerve blocks also include steroids. A person may feel some minor side effects due to these steroids. These include:

A doctor will administer the nerve block.

During the procedure a person will lie on a medical table facing down.

The doctor will clean the area of the injection site. They will then apply anesthetic to this area to numb it slightly.

The doctor then inserts the needle into the injection site until it reaches the occipital nerve. Once it reaches the nerve they inject the medication into it.

If a person has recurring migraine headaches they should speak to a healthcare professional. After carrying out a medical evaluation, the medical professional may suggest a nerve block as a possible treatment for the migraine headaches.

The nerve block could reduce the severity of any migraine headaches, reduce their frequency, or stop them altogether.

Nerve blocks are a common treatment option for migraine headaches.

During the procedure, a medical professional injects a nerve-numbing substance around specific nerves in order to stop them from sending signals to the brain.

This can stop a person from experiencing pain associated with migraine headaches.

There are some minor side effects that a person may experience, including bleeding or bruising at the point of injection, numbness, infection, hot flashes, nausea, and dizziness.