Occipital nerve stimulation for cluster headache

Occipital nerve stimulation for cluster headache

Occipital nerve stimulation (ONS) has been proposed chronic cluster headache treatment (rCCH) but its efficacy has only been showed in small short-term series.

Leplus et al. evaluated 105 patients with rCCH, treated by ONS within a multicenter ONS prospective registry. Efficacy was evaluated by frequency, intensity of pain attacks, quality of life (QoL) EuroQol 5 dimensions (EQ5D), functional (Headache Impact Test-6, Migraine Disability Assessment) and emotional (Hospital Anxiety Depression Scale [HAD]) impacts, and medication consumption.

At last follow-up (mean 43.8 mo), attack frequency was reduced >50% in 69% of the patients. Mean weekly attack frequency decreased from 22.5 at baseline to 9.9 (P < .001) after ONS. Preventive and abortive medications were significantly decreased. Functional impact, anxiety, and QoL significantly improved after ONS. In excellent responders (59% of the patients), attack frequency decreased by 80% and QoL (EQ5D visual analog scale) dramatically improved from 37.8/100 to 73.2/100. When comparing baseline and 1-yr and last follow-up outcomes, efficacy was sustained over time. In multivariable analysis, low preoperative HAD-depression score was correlated to a higher risk of ONS failure. During the follow-up, 67 patients experienced at least one complication, 29 requiring an additional surgery: infection (6%), lead migration (12%) or fracture (4.5%), hardware dysfunction (8.2%), and local pain (20%).

The results showed that longterm efficacy of ONS in CCH was maintained over time. In responders, ONS induced a major reduction of functional and emotional headache-related impacts and a dramatic improvement of QoL. These results obtained in real-life conditions support its use and dissemination in rCCH patients 1).

33 patients, of whom 16 had chronic migraine (CM), nine had chronic cluster headache (CCH), and six had secondary headache disorders. PENS was given using Algotec® disposable 21 gauge PENS therapy probes (8 cm) to the occipital nerve ipsilateral to the pain (or bilaterally in cases of bilateral pain). Stimulation was delivered at 2 Hz/100 Hz, at 3 cycles/s, between 1.2 and 2.5 V depending on patient tolerability, for 25-28 min.

Six of nine patients with CCH improved significantly after the first session. In all patients with CCH, PENS therapy was well tolerated, with no significant adverse events reported. One patient with CCH reverted to an episodic cluster. Only four patients with CM experienced any benefit.

PENS therapy shows potential as a relatively non-invasive, low-risk, and inexpensive component of the treatment options for refractory primary headache disorders, particularly CCH 2).

Seventeen patients (12 CM and 5 CCH) were treated with bilateral burst pattern ONS, including 4 who had previously had tonic ONS. Results were assessed in terms of the frequency of headaches (number of headache days per month for CM, and number of attacks per day for CCH) and their intensity on the numeric pain rating scale.

Burst ONS produced a statistically significant mean reduction of 10.2 headache days per month in CM. In CCH, there were significant mean reductions in headache frequency (92%) and intensity (42%).

Paraesthesia is not necessary for good quality analgesia in ONS. Larger studies will be required to determine whether the efficacies of the two stimulation modes differ. Burst ONS is imperceptible and therefore potentially amenable to robustly blinded clinical trials 3).

Eight patients with medically intractable chronic cluster headache were implanted in the suboccipital region with electrodes for occipital nerve stimulation. Other than the first patient, who was initially stimulated unilaterally before being stimulated bilaterally, all patients were stimulated bilaterally during treatment.

At a median follow-up of 20 months (range 6-27 months for bilateral stimulation), six of eight patients reported responses that were sufficiently meaningful for them to recommend the treatment to similarly affected patients with chronic cluster headache. Two patients noticed a substantial improvement (90% and 95%) in their attacks; three patients noticed a moderate improvement (40%, 60%, and 20-80%) and one reported mild improvement (25%). Improvements occurred in both frequency and severity of attacks. These changes took place over weeks or months, although attacks returned in days when the device malfunctioned (eg, with battery depletion). Adverse events of concern were lead migrations in one patient and battery depletion requiring replacement in four.

Occipital nerve stimulation in cluster headache seems to offer a safe, effective treatment option that could begin a new era of neurostimulation therapy for primary headache syndromes 4).



Leplus A, Fontaine D, Donnet A, Regis J, Lucas C, Buisset N, Blond S, Raoul S, Guegan-Massardier E, Derrey S, Jarraya B, Dang-Vu B, Bourdain F, Valade D, Roos C, Creach C, Chabardes S, Giraud P, Voirin J, Bloch J, Colnat-Coulbois S, Caire F, Rigoard P, Tran L, Cruzel C, Lantéri-Minet M; French ONS registry group. LongTerm Efficacy of Occipital Nerve Stimulation for Medically Intractable Cluster Headache. Neurosurgery. 2020 Sep 28:nyaa373. doi: 10.1093/neuros/nyaa373. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 32985662.

Weatherall MW, Nandi D. Percutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (PENS) therapy for refractory primary headache disorders: a pilot study. Br J Neurosurg. 2019 Oct 3:1-5. doi: 10.1080/02688697.2019.1671951. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 31578882.

Garcia-Ortega R, Edwards T, Moir L, Aziz TZ, Green AL, FitzGerald JJ. Burst Occipital Nerve Stimulation for Chronic Migraine and Chronic Cluster Headache. Neuromodulation. 2019 Jul;22(5):638-644. doi: 10.1111/ner.12977. Epub 2019 Jun 14. PubMed PMID: 31199547.

Burns B, Watkins L, Goadsby PJ. Treatment of medically intractable cluster headache by occipital nerve stimulationlongterm follow-up of 8 patients. Lancet. 2007; 369:1099–1106

Occipital neuralgia

Occipital neuralgia

Occipital neuralgia, also known as C2 neuralgia, or (rarely) Arnold’s neuralgia, is a medical condition characterized by chronic pain in the upper neck, back of the head and behind the eyes. These areas correspond to the locations of the lesser and greater occipital nerves. The greater occipital nerve also has an artery that supplies blood that is wrapped around it – the occipital artery – that can contribute to the neuralgia. This condition is also sometimes characterized by diminished sensation in the affected area as well.


Occipital neuralgia typically arises in the setting of nerve compression by fibrosis, surrounding anatomic structures, or osseous pathologies, such as bone spurs or hypertrophic atlanto-epistropic ligament. It generally presents as paroxysmal bouts of sharp pain in the sensory distribution of the first three occipital nerves. Due to the long course of the greater occipital nerve (GON), and its peculiar anatomy, and location in a mobile region of the neck, it is unsurprising that the GON is at high risk for compression.

Keep in mind that conditions such as occipital neuralgia may occasionally follow whiplash-type injuries and should be treated appropriately.

Odontoid fracture.

Almost all conscious patients with Hangman’s fracture will have cervical pain usually in the upper posterior cervical region, and occipital neuralgia is not uncommon.

C1 lateral mass screws.

After Microvascular Decompression.

Little is known how to diagnose or treat this neuropathic pain syndrome.

After all nonoperative efforts are exhausted, surgical transection of the nerve is the treatment of choice in these cases. An isolated C2 neurectomy or ganglionectomy is performed for optimal pain relief. C1-2 instrumented fusion can be considered if, extensive facet arthropathy with instability is identified 1).



Janjua MB, Reddy S, El Ahmadieh TY, Ban VS, Ozturk AK, Hwang SW, Samdani AF, Passias PG, Welch WC, Arlet V. Occipital neuralgia: A neurosurgical perspective. J Clin Neurosci. 2019 Oct 9. pii: S0967-5868(19)31411-0. doi: 10.1016/j.jocn.2019.08.102. [Epub ahead of print] Review. PubMed PMID: 31606286.
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