The occipital nerves start between the second and third vertebrae of the neck. From there, the nerves pass through various muscles in the upper back, neck and head. When the occipital nerves are damaged or exposed to infection, they cause spasming and pain in the muscles along their path. The occipital nerves can be damaged as a result of injury (whiplash, head trauma), spinal column compression, localized infection or inflammation, gout, diabetes, and tumors.
As occipital neuralgia is not a life-threatening issue, recovery is usually complete following treatment.