Occipital neuralgia is a little-known but surprisingly common condition that causes severe headaches. While it’s far from a life-threatening condition especially if detected early, it can still cause significant issues with your day-to-day life. Fortunately, conventional therapies like prolotherapy have been able to give some relief to patients, though many are choosing to transition from it to regenerative medicine, like PRP treatment.
So is there anything patients should keep in mind about moving to platelet-rich plasma treatment from prolotherapy? Since both treatments are injectable, there’s actually little to no difference to be expected with the actual procedure itself – though it’s important to find an experienced provider that can apply PRP therapy for your particular situation.
What Is Occipital Neuralgia?
Occipital neuralgia occurs when the nerves that run through the occipital lobe are pinched, injured, inflamed, or otherwise affected by external pressure. This usually manifests in headache-like symptoms, starting from the base of the neck and running all throughout the head.
Though caused by a variety of different factors, occipital neuralgia is commonly caused by a cervical complication. Typically, when the spine is compressed in a way that puts pressure on the nerves, this triggers the pain receptors in the occipital lobe which then travel throughout the rest of the head.
Because the spine is the major site of the nervous system, people who suffer from occipital neuralgia can be triggered by even the slightest of motions, which can cause searing pain that worsens over time. This is particularly evident in patients who’ve developed the condition due to traumatic injury.
How Do Injectable Treatments Help?
Injectable treatments are some of the most effective ways to address the root cause of occipital neuralgia since they can help with the underlying cause rather than treating the symptoms. They’re also relatively non-invasive compared to other options like surgery, which can put a strain on the body after the procedure and can be risky for some patients.
Easily administered and quick to recover from, injectable treatments like prolotherapy and platelet-rich plasma treatment can also be administered without relative complications. Apart from having to find an experienced provider for either treatment, it’s easy to transition from one treatment to another, given that the patient has already gotten approval from their provider and primary care doctor.
By using injectable treatments over surgery or other invasive methods, a patient is better able to recover from the effects of the procedure and resume their normal day-to-day activities. Since the treatment itself also doesn’t take too much time and effort, patients can simply go in and out of treatment at their leisure.
How Does Prolotherapy Work?
Prolotherapy treatment involves the injection of a compound (usually made of saline) into an affected joint or muscle, intending to kick-start the body’s immune response and wound healing processes. By mimicking the circumstances of an injury or something else that needs to be repaired by your body, prolotherapy essentially encourages your body to respond to chronic conditions like occipital neuralgia with active treatment.
A recommended alternative for people who haven’t seen much success with conventional forms of joint pain and inflammation treatment, prolotherapy is a relatively safe procedure that carries only minimal side effects. Most orthopedic doctors offer it as a potential treatment option for similar conditions like arthritis, or active injuries sustained from playing sports.
However, one reason why some people move away from prolotherapy is that its effects aren’t fully understood – or in some cases, it doesn’t work at all for the patient. There’s been limited research conducted on the efficacy of the treatment, and most doctors and specialists don’t have any training at all in the method. Even fewer believe that it’s effective for the treatment of occipital neuralgia.
This is because the wound healing response from the injection isn’t always a sure thing – and even if it works, studies have been unable to pinpoint exactly how it can benefit the body or how it helps repair the joint. Even the improvements that have been noted by early providers and studies haven’t been conclusive, especially for long-term results.
Why Platelet-Rich Plasma Treatment May Be A Better Option
Many patients are now choosing to switch to more promising regenerative therapies like PRP injections since they can offer the same or even better results compared to prolotherapy without any major changes in the treatment process.
Platelet-rich plasma therapy works by getting a sample of the patient’s blood, processing it to remove other blood cell types like red blood cells, white blood cells, and other compounds, and concentrating the remaining platelets into a serum for injection.
This pure platelet solution triggers the regenerative response in the body, boosting wound healing and helping the body repair and rebuild its cells. Because platelets are essential to the body clotting over wounds, a large concentration of platelets in the treated area can help regrow lost tissue or repair failing cells.
What makes PRP treatments better than prolotherapy treatments is that the science of PRP therapy is more reliable than prolotherapy, which means that providers can guarantee a certain outcome for patients who undergo this type of treatment. Aside from pain relief, patients who undergo PRP injections for occipital neuralgia can potentially regrow lost cartilage, regenerate damaged nerve cells, and restore the proper function and feedback of nerve groups.
Given that PRP treatments have a high level of biocompatibility with the body (since it uses your own blood as the base ingredient), you’re far more likely to experience favorable results when you go with PRP treatments. Depending on your provider, your PRP treatment can be enriched with other benefits like growth factors or fibrin matrices, which further improve the results from your initial injections.
One thing that patients should keep in mind when using either prolotherapy or PRP injection for occipital neuralgia is to find an experienced provider for either procedure. While both treatments are fairly safe with minimal risks of side effects, providers still need to be careful with how they administer either treatment because the affected area is very close to the spine.
Given that the majority of the causes for occipital neuralgia can be traced back to cervical disorders, it’s also crucial to have a primary care doctor advising you on the right process needed to relieve your occipital neuralgia. Depending on your circumstances, you may have to settle for pain relief short-term before proceeding to more long-term treatments.
Another thing to keep in mind is that both prolotherapy and PRP injections are both classified as experimental treatments, as far as their effects on occipital neuralgia are concerned. That isn’t to say that they don’t work – both treatments have seen some success in clinical trials and some studies – but their overall effects aren’t fully understood.
Part of this is because there are different standards with how each treatment is administered depending on the provider, which makes guaranteeing results extremely difficult. This means that while you can expect some success with either treatment, how successful they can be will depend on the patient themselves.
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The transition process from prolotherapy to platelet-rich plasma treatment is less complex since you’ll just be switching from one injectable treatment to another. Platelet-rich plasma therapy also has other effects that can prove beneficial to those suffering from occipital neuralgia, making it an effective long-term treatment to help patients manage pain and deal with the underlying cause of their nerve damage.
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