Narrative review of peripheral nerve blocks for the management of headache

Headache. 2022 Oct;62(9):1077-1092. doi: 10.1111/head.14385.


Objective: To provide an overview of the current available literature on peripheral nerve blocks for the management of migraine and other headache disorders in adults.

Background: Peripheral nerve blocks have been commonly performed in the headache practice for migraine, cluster headache, occipital neuralgia, and other headache disorders, despite a paucity of evidence supporting their use historically. In the past decade, there has been an effort to explore the efficacy and safety of peripheral nerve blocks for the management of headache, with the greatest interest centered around greater occipital blocks.

Design: We performed a search in PubMed using key words including "occipital nerve blocks," "peripheral nerve blocks," "occipital nerve," "migraine," "cluster headache," and "neuralgia." We reviewed the randomized controlled trials (RCTs), observational studies, and case series, and summarized the anatomy, techniques, and the evidence for the use of peripheral nerve blocks in different headache disorders, with particular focus on available RCTs. Case reports were included for a detail review of adverse events.

Results: Of 12 RCTs examining the use of greater occipital nerve blocks for migraine, all but one demonstrate efficacy with reduction in headache frequency, intensity, and/or duration compared to placebo. Studies have not demonstrated a difference in clinical outcomes with the use of corticosteroids for nerve blocks compared to blocks with local anesthetic in the treatment of migraine. There are two RCTs supporting the use of greater occipital blockade for cluster headache, both showing benefit of suboccipitally injected corticosteroid. One RCT suggests benefit of greater occipital nerve blocks for cervicogenic headache. Observational studies and case series/reports show that greater occipital nerve block may be effective in prolonged migraine aura, status migrainosus, post-dural puncture headache, and occipital neuralgia. Overall, peripheral nerve blocks are well tolerated. Serious side effects are rare but have been reported, including acute cerebellar syndrome and infection.

Conclusions: Peripheral nerve blocks, especially occipital nerve blocks, are a viable treatment option for migraine and may be helpful in cluster headache as a transitional therapy or rescue therapy. Additional prospective studies are needed to investigate the efficacy and safety of occipital nerve blocks for long-term migraine prevention, as well as for other headache disorders, such as occipital neuralgia.

Keywords: cluster; injection; migraine; occipital neuralgia; peripheral nerve block.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones
  • Adult
  • Anesthetics, Local / therapeutic use
  • Cluster Headache* / drug therapy
  • Headache / drug therapy
  • Headache Disorders* / drug therapy
  • Humans
  • Migraine Disorders* / drug therapy
  • Neuralgia* / drug therapy
  • Peripheral Nerves
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Anesthetics, Local
  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones