Occipital Nerve Stimulation

For those who do not object to having a device implanted in their brain, Occipital Nerve Stimulation for the Treatment of Intractable Migraine (ONSTIM) may one day be a treatment option. While not commercially available or FDA approved, this futuristic treatment offers a new type of potential relief.

So far, this technique has only been tried in a few clinical trials on a small number of patients. Individuals who participated in the ONSTIM trial had a neurostimulator implanted underneath their skin, near the base of the head. The purpose of the neurostimulator is to send electrical impulses to the occipital nerves; these are delivered through wires that are placed underneath the skin. In the trials, the implant was only approved for people for whom other medications provide insufficient relief from migraine recurrence.

After placement of the device, participants noted decreases in migraine pain of up to 50 percent. When tested on individuals who experienced cluster headaches, similar results were achieved. While this percentage is appealing, note that Occipital Nerve Stimulation is not a noninvasive procedure, and only appeared to be effective for certain patients.

Results also indicated that the effects were short-lived, and that headaches returned once the stimulator was turned off. While the preliminary form of this treatment may not be ready for commercial sale, its limited success is sure to initiate future research.


Neurostimulation comes in one of two forms. Internal neurostimulation involves surgically implanted neurostimulators, along with batteries and leads. Internal/external neurostimulation involves implanting the stimulator and leads, but batteries are worn outside the body.

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