Occipital Neuralgia is a specific form of migraine headache but is rated in the same way.
Do you ever get headaches that seem to start at the back of your head and radiate out to your ears and the crown of your head? Do you find that your scalp is sensitive to brushing your hair or laying on a pillow? Do you find yourself unable to work because your migraines are so severe you can’t get out of bed?
If any of this sounds familiar to you, you might be living with occipital neuralgia. This condition causes severe migraine-like pain and can be the result of injuries in combat or training exercises. Read on to learn more about this condition and how you can apply to get disability compensation for it.
In this article about Occipital Neuralgia VA benefits:
- What Is Occipital Neuralgia?
- Symptoms of Occipital Neuralgia
- Challenges of Occipital Neuralgia
- What Causes Occipital Neuralgia Headaches?
- Veteran’s Risk Factors
- How Common Is It?
- How It’s Diagnosed
- What to Do If You Think You Have Occipital Neuralgia
- Preparing for Your Appointment
- What to Expect
- Similar Headache and Neck Pain Conditions
- Proving a Service Connection
- Proving Unemployability
- Occipital Neuralgia VA Ratings
- 100% TDIU Total Disability Benefits
- How to Qualify for VA Disability
- Get Help Applying for VA Benefits
What Is Occipital Neuralgia?
Occipital neuralgia is a condition that can cause migraine-like headaches along the back of your head or the base of your skull. This condition causes your occipital nerves to become inflamed. It can also be the result of these nerves becoming injured.
Your occipital nerves are a group of nerve fibers that emerge from the bones at the top of your spine. They make their way from the top of your spine through the muscles at the back of your neck and up into your scalp. They are responsible for you being able to feel the back of your head and parts of your ears.
Symptoms of Occipital Neuralgia
When your occipital nerves are damaged, it can cause severe sensitivity or pain along the back of your scalp. You may experience a sharp, jabbing pain or a sort of “zinging” electric sensation. This pain may also be a lower, throbbing, aching pain that starts in the base of your skull and radiates up into your scalp.
You might also get pain on one or both sides of your head or behind your eyes as a result of occipital neuralgia. You may feel sensitive to light or get pain when you move your head or neck. You might also notice that your scalp is tender and hurts when you brush your hair or lay down on a pillow.
Challenges of Occipital Neuralgia
Although we all get headaches from time, occipital neuralgia is more than just something that warrants a couple of ibuprofen. Many times, sufferers may mistake occipital neuralgia for migraines at first. This pain can be debilitating and can make it hard to work or maintain normal life.
Occipital neuralgia can also pose an additional challenge because it’s so hard to diagnose. Oftentimes, doctors may not be able to find a definite cause for it. Many patients may also suffer for years without knowing that they should be seeking treatment for this condition because of its similarity to migraines.
What Causes Occipital Neuralgia Headaches?
There can be a number of causes of occipital neuralgia, beginning with trauma to the back of the head. If you get hit in the back of the head, it can cause damage to these nerves. Neck tension or tight muscles can also start to pinch those nerves, creating inflammation and damage.
Osteoarthritis can sometimes cause damage to your occipital nerves. A tumor in your neck or cervical disc disease can start to press on those nerves, or you could get an infection in the nerves there. Gout, diabetes, and blood vessel inflammation can also cause your occipital nerves to become inflamed.
Veteran’s Risk Factors
There are a number of factors that can raise your risk of developing occipital neuralgia. Chief among these for veterans is injury or trauma to the back of the head or neck. These types of injury can be common in training and combat and can leave veterans vulnerable to ongoing nerve damage.
You might also be at higher risk of occipital neuralgia if you’ve had surgery on your head or neck. If you have a structural defect, either congenital or acquired, in your spine, head, or neck, you might be more vulnerable. And people who are in jobs that place repetitive strain on the back of the neck and the head may be more likely to develop occipital neuralgia.
How Common Is It?
Occipital neuralgia is a relatively uncommon disorder among the general population. It’s estimated that this condition affects about three people in every 100,000 every year. However, veterans, and especially combat veterans, may have higher rates of incidence than the general population.
How It’s Diagnosed
Occipital neuralgia is primarily diagnosed based on a medical history and a physical exam. Your doctor may be able to reproduce your pain during the exam. If they know you have had a previous head injury, they may be more likely to diagnose you with occipital neuralgia.
If your doctor thinks your case may be unusual for occipital neuralgia, they may order blood tests or an MRI scan. They may also give you a shot that numbs the nerve, called a nerve block. If that shot gives you some relief, there’s a very good chance that you have occipital neuralgia.
What to Do If You Think You Have Occipital Neuralgia
If you believe you may have occipital neuralgia that is service-connected, the first thing to do is call us at (866)232-5777. The treatments for migraines and occipital neuralgia are very different, so you need to make sure you’re getting the right diagnosis. If you get the wrong diagnosis, you may not get the relief you need. We can’t diagnose you over the phone, but we can tell you how to get your VA disability application started on the right foot.
While you wait for your C&P Exam, you can try some basic methods to relieve pain so you can get some rest. Warm compresses on the back of your neck and over-the-counter pain medications like acetaminophen or ibuprofen can be helpful. But do note that these are not acceptable long-term treatments – they are simply intermediate measures while you wait for your appointment.
You won’t get relief or medicine at your C&P Exam. It is for VA ratings only. You may be referred on to a doctor for another appointment to work on your symptoms another day.
This firm has been excellent at obtaining my disability claim. I now am 100% service connected. No complaints. Thanks to Woods and Woods. I will recommend them for anyone trying to obtain service connected disability.L.T. — review on Google Reviews
Preparing for Your Appointment
One of the best things you can do to prepare for your appointment is to gather a complete medical history. You should make note of any medications you’re taking and any diagnoses you currently have. It’s also a good idea to put together a family medical history, including any history of migraines.
As part of your medical history, be sure to note any head trauma that you’ve experienced. This could be the result of an injury in combat or training, a car accident, or even slipping and falling at home. Any injury that you had while you were enlisted counts. Even a basketball injury during leave or a car wreck after basic. It’s also a good idea to write down a list of questions you may have for your doctor.
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What to Expect
When you go for your appointment, your doctor will likely start out asking you about your medical history. If you have had a head injury, they may ask you about the details of how you were injured. This will help them to determine if your head was injured in the right place to affect your occipital nerves.
Your doctor may also perform a physical exam on your head. They may press hard on the back of your head, attempting to reproduce your pain there in the office. This can tell them if your occipital nerves are the source of your pain.
Similar Headache and Neck Pain Conditions
Of course, the most common condition similar to occipital neuralgia is migraines. A migraine can have various causes and is defined more by its severity than its cause. Any headache of sufficient severity and which is accompanied by other side effects, including sensitivity to light or sound, nausea, or auras, may qualify as a migraine.
There are also several other types of headache disorders that can be similar to occipital neuralgia. People may suffer from tension-type headaches, which originate from muscle tension. You may also get cluster headaches, which happen in “storms” of several instances in a short period of time, or medication-overuse headaches.
Proving a Service Connection
If you plan to claim disability compensation for your occipital neuralgia, the first thing you’ll need to do is to prove a service connection. This means that you can prove that your condition is a direct result of your military service. There are a few ways you can prove a service connection.
If your condition was diagnosed during your service, it will qualify as a service connection. This also extends to diagnoses that happen within a year of your discharge. If you get your diagnosis more than a year after your service ended, it will have to be connected to a proven service-related condition or incident.
If your occipital neuralgia is severe enough that you can’t work, you’ll need to prove unemployability to the Veterans Association. Many veterans do find this condition to be debilitating, but there are certain criteria that must be met. And unfortunately, the highest possible schedular rating for any headache disorder is 50 percent.
In order to get a 50 percent rating, you must be able to show that you experience “completely prostrating and prolonged attacks” several times per month. This means that the attack must be severe enough that you have to lay down for several hours. If you meet these criteria, the VA will usually grant you a total disability rating based on individual unemployability, or TDIU.
Occipital Neuralgia VA Ratings
Because occipital neuralgia and migraines are so similar in symptoms, they are technically evaluated on the same rating schedule even though they are different disorders. A rating of 50 percent is the highest for this type of schedule. This rating is attached to attacks that produce “severe economic inadaptability.”
The next step down on the rating schedule is 30 percent, which includes prostrating attacks that happen on average once a month. At 10 percent, you have attacks on average once every two months. And at 0 percent, you have attacks less frequently than once every two months or so.
100% TDIU Total Disability Benefits
Although the maximum rating schedule for a headache disorder is 50 percent, you can win total disability for this condition. You have to be able to prove a service connection and that you are unemployable because of your condition. A good veteran disability lawyer can help you prove that you need to be on total disability.
If you are rated as having a total disability, you can get a monthly payment from the VA to help compensate you for your disability. You might also receive money to cover automobile or clothing expenses. Depending on your situation, you might also qualify for special housing grants, insurance policies, rehab, employment training, or education assistance.
How to Qualify for VA Disability
If you believe you qualify for any form of disability compensation from the VA, it’s important that you see a doctor and start working with us. The sooner you get a diagnosis, the more likely you will be to prove a connection between your condition and your service. You need to make sure your diagnosis comes from a qualified medical professional.
From there, you will need to apply for aid from the VA. It’s a good idea to have someone who’s familiar with this process helping you out during this time. A veterans disability lawyer can help you navigate the application process and make sure you get all the compensation you’re entitled to.
Get Help Applying for VA Benefits
Occipital neuralgia is a serious condition that can cause debilitating, migraine-like pain. If you believe you may have it, see your doctor immediately to get a diagnosis and start on a treatment plan. And apply for disability compensation with the VA, especially if you believe your condition may be connected to your service.
If you’d like help navigating the application process, reach out to us at Woods and Woods. We fight for disabled veterans nationwide to help you get the compensation you deserve. Contact us today to talk about your claim and start getting the most out of your disability benefits.