Understanding Occipital Nerve Stimulation

Board certified in anesthesia with a subspecialty in pain medicine, Dr. Brian Klagges has helped numerous patients achieve relief from chronic pain. As a staff physician at Eliot Hospital in Manchester, New Hampshire, where he has practiced since 2007, Dr. Brian Klagges performs a wide range of pain management treatments, including occipital nerve stimulation.

Used to treat severe headache disorders and craniofacial pain, occipital nerve stimulation involves electrically stimulating nerves in the occipital lobe of the brain at the back of the skull to eliminate pain in the head. To do so, a physician implants a small pulse generator just under the skin in the abdomen, back, upper buttock, or upper chest. An attached lead is placed under the skin at the base of the skull, where the occipital nerves are located.

This treatment does not work for everyone, and that is why pain medicine specialists perform a trial before implanting the device. In the trial phase, the leads are placed near the occipital nerves, but the pulse generator is kept external to the body. The patient then keeps a pain diary for about a week to determine if a significant improvement in painful symptoms has occurred. If so, the patient can proceed with receiving the permanent implant.

Occipital nerve stimulator implantation is well tolerated by most patients. Complications are rare and may include infection at the surgical site or the need for secondary surgery to adjust the leads. Several studies show that roughly 75 percent of patients report good pain control 10 years or more after implant placement.

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