Pain in the temples or neck area can be distorting and bothersome. Most people are accustomed to feeling a bit of tension in their neck or shoulders after a stressful interview or an evening spent grading assignments. However, what is your body trying to tell you when your temple pain is persistent?

Giant Cell Arteritis

A headache in your temples can be a sign of a larger, much more serious condition. Disorders such as Giant Cell Arteritis have beginning symptoms such as a pain in the temples.

Giant Cell Arteritis is a form of arthritis that is the result of inflammation of the blood vessels. The arteries near the scalp and head are usually most affected as well as the arteries that rest over the temples.

Giant Cell Arteritis usually occurs in older individuals. If you or a  loved one is fifty years of age or older, and experiencing a persistent pain in the temple area, it’s best to schedule an appointment with your doctor.

In addition to the severe pain that you might feel in your temples, your pain could also be located in the front, top, and back of the skull. A few other symptoms of Giant Cell Arteritis are:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • In some cases, an unexplained fever.

Giant Cell Arteritis is diagnosed in a few ways. Your doctor might perform a test such as an erythrocyte sedimentation rate, which is a blood test that measures inflammation by measuring the number of red blood cells that fall within an hour.

Your doctor might also recommend doing an ultrasound of your temples, or they’ll want to surgically removed a piece of your temporary artery to examine it under a microscope for signs of inflammation.

Giant Cell Arteritis is usually treated with a high dose of corticosteroids. The high dose of corticosteroids is required because it’s important that the artery is treated fast or you risk permanently losing your vision. Over a two year period, patients are usually weaned off of the high dose of the drug.

Ice Pick Headaches

Sharp, throbbing pains in your temples are signs of an ice pick headache. The pain that’s caused by the headache can last anywhere from a few seconds to a minute. Ice pick headaches are caused by:

  • Stress
  • Changes in sleep pattern
  • An irregular meal schedule
  • Eating certain foods
  • Overeating
  • Stroke or migraines

Ice pick headaches can be treated by using indomethacin (Indocin). However, time is also likely to help you treat this condition because the headaches last for such a short period of time.

Post-Concussion Headache

If you’ve recently suffered from a severe head injury, the headache in your temples could be a lingering symptom of a concussion. Post-concussion headaches are very common, and they’re likely to be accompanied with other symptoms such as:

  • Confusion
  • Distorted Memory
  • Trouble Balancing
  • Issues with speech

Fortunately, post-concussion headaches usually respond to the same treatment of the headache that they closely resemble. Your headache and other symptoms such as irregular sleeping patterns and irritability should wane within a three month period.

Occipital Neuralgia

Occipital Neuralgia is what happens when the occipital nerves (the nerves that run from the very top of the spinal cord and to your scalp) become injured or inflamed. In addition to pain that you might feel at the back of your head or the base of your skull, you are also likely to suffer from symptoms that are similar to a headache.

It’s not unusual to feel the pain of occipital neuralgia in the form of a headache in your temples. Occipital Neuralgia is usually caused by a section of inflamed nerves in the area that might have been caused by an injury. Doctors have yet to nail down the precise reason why occipital neuralgia occurs, although it is thought that the alignment of the upper neck may be involved in some cases.

Symptoms

While a headache in or near your temples will certainly be a sign of Occipital Neuralgia, there are other symptoms that will be present if your occipital nerves are damaged. You should schedule an appointment with your doctor if you’re experiencing a few of the following symptoms:

  • Pain behind your eye
  • A very tender scalp
  • If you’re experiencing pain when you attempt to move your neck.
  • Light sensitivity.

Diagnosis

In order to properly diagnose Occipital Neuralgia, your doctor may give you a blood test or MRI  so that they can closely examine the nerve. However, an MRI or blood test is more likely to be used if your doctor thinks your case is atypical. In more common cases of Occipital Neuralgia, your doctor will give you an injection that numbs your occipital nerves to see if brings any relief.

Treatment

There’s a few different methods that you can use to try and relieve your pain such as applying a heat to your neck, taking a dose of an NSAID like aspirin or naproxen, or administering a massage to your injured muscles or asking a spouse or friend to massage the area.

In many cases, your doctor might prescribe a series of steroid shots over several weeks, an antidepressant (antidepressants can help relieve symptoms such as a headache, headache is a common symptom of anxiety and depression) or a muscle relaxant.

If a structural shift in the upper neck is found, then precise chiropractic adjusting may be recommended.

In more extreme cases, your doctor may want to proceed with surgery on your occipital nerves. Microvascular decompression may be used to treat your occipital neuralgia, your doctor will search for the inflamed blood vessels that might be compressing your nerves.

Your doctor may also consider stimulating your occipital nerves using neurostimulator, which will deliver electric pulses to your occipital nerves and can help block pain messages that are sent to the brain.

Prevention

Headaches caused by the presence of Occipital Neuralgia can be prevented by using good safety measures to ensure that you won’t sustain a neck injury or whiplash.

For people with diabetes, the condition can be avoided by managing your diet and being sure to avoid foods that cause inflammation such as:

  • Processed foods
  • Sugary sodas and snacks
  • Foods that are very high in sodium
  • Foods that are deficient in Vitamin B-12

Occipital Neuralgia can sometimes be prevented by managing health conditions such as diabetes and arthritis.

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