How Nerve Blocks Work to Treat Your Cluster Headaches

Mar 08, 2023
How Nerve Blocks Work to Treat Your Cluster Headaches
Fortunately, cluster headaches are less common than other headache types. However, they’re the most painful type of headache you can experience. Read the facts about cluster headaches and the pain relief a nerve block offers.

Not even a migraine produces the pain associated with a cluster headache. The headaches usually last 30-45 minutes but sometimes continue for hours. 

Cluster headaches can occur up to eight times a day around the clock for weeks to months, followed by a headache-free remission period that may last months to years. That’s the classic pattern for cluster headaches.

Neurologist Dr. Wade Steeves at Valley Neurology in Spokane Valley, Washington, focuses his medical expertise on accurately diagnosing and treating headaches and facial pain full-time. 


He’s known throughout Eastern Washington and North Idaho as the Headache Guy, delivering cutting-edge treatments for migraines, chronic tension headaches, and cluster headaches.

Read more about nerve blocks for cluster headaches and why Dr. Steeves considers them an effective tool for blocking head pain at its source.

Understanding cluster headaches

A cluster headache, so named because the headaches occur in groups or clusters, is one of a group of trigeminal autonomic cephalgias (TACs). Once you’ve entered a cluster period, these painfully debilitating headaches can disrupt your life for weeks to months without treatment.

The one-sided head pain associated with a cluster headache is excruciating, typically encompassing the region behind and around one eye but sometimes traveling into other areas of the face, head, and neck.

Other symptoms associated with a cluster headache include:

  • Eye redness and excessive tearing
  • One-sided stuffy or runny nose
  • Forehead or facial sweating affecting just one side
  • Pale skin (pallor) or flushing of your face
  • Swelling around the involved eye
  • Drooping eyelid

You may also experience a few migraine-like symptoms with a cluster headache, such as sensitivity to light and sound. Again, however, these symptoms are typically one-sided.

Are cluster headaches dangerous?

Although the pain is severe and the other symptoms are alarming, especially when first experiencing them, cluster headaches aren’t considered life-threatening.

Dr. Steeves may suspect cluster headaches based on your symptoms. However, he performs a thorough exam and neurological assessment to confirm the diagnosis before developing a treatment strategy.

Otherwise, like any chronic pain issue, cluster headaches can give rise to anxiety and depression as you worry about the next headache. In addition, the pain can make it impossible to continue your daily routine during a cluster period.

While the pain and other symptoms cease as suddenly as they began, most people report feeling exhausted for hours after these headaches.

The headaches also occur at night, and nighttime symptoms may be even worse than those experienced during the day. These symptoms disrupt sleep and possibly aggravate the condition since sleep disturbance may trigger a cluster period.

How does a nerve block work for cluster headaches?

The goal for treating cluster headaches is relieving your pain and preventing or reducing the frequency of cluster periods. A nerve block is a simple in-office injection that stops the pain at its source, the occipital nerve.

For a nerve block injection, Dr. Steeves combines corticosteroid to reduce nerve irritation and inflammation with an anesthetic to block pain signals from the nerve to the brain. He uses a fine needle to inject the solution into the occipital nerve area at the back of the head. 

A topical numbing agent prevents discomfort from the injection during the procedure, which takes just a few minutes.

While it’s not a cure, a nerve block can relieve pain related to cluster headaches for several weeks to months. Dr. Steeves also develops a treatment strategy that’s focused on preventing future cluster headaches or at least decreasing their frequency.

Schedule an evaluation with Dr. Steeves at Valley Neurology today for relief from headaches of all types. Call the office or request an appointment online.