Occasionally, either the C2 or C3 nerve root can get pinched as it leaves the cervical spine. These are mostly sensory nerve roots, and if they are pinched it can cause a chronic headache. Pain is generally felt in the back of the head or the occipital region.

See What Is Causing My Neck Pain and Headache?

Occipital neuralgia is characterized by sharp, painful, electric-shock-like sensations on the back of the head, neck, and ears.

The headache can usually be relieved through one or a combination of nonsurgical treatments, including:

In very severe cases (which are rare), a surgical decompression of the cervical nerve root may be needed to relieve pressure on the nerve.

Dr. Peter Ullrich is an orthopedic surgeon who retired from practice with more than 20 years of experience specializing in spine surgery. Dr. Ullrich previously practiced as an orthopedic spine surgeon at the NeuroSpine Center of Wisconsin.