Occipital nerve stimulation for chronic migraine - a systematic review and meta-analysis

Yen-Fu Chen, George Bramley, Gemma Unwin, Dalvina Hanu-cernat, Janine Dretzke, David Moore, Susan Bayliss, Carole Cummins, Richard Lilford

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39 Citations (Scopus)
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Chronic migraine is a debilitating headache disorder that has significant impact on quality of life. Stimulation of peripheral nerves is increasingly being used to treat chronic refractory pain including headache disorders. This systematic review examines the effectiveness and adverse effects of occipital nerve stimulation (ONS) for chronic migraine.

Databases, including the Cochrane Library, MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL and clinical trial registers were searched to September 2014. Randomized controlled trials (RCTs), other controlled and uncontrolled observational studies and case series (n≥ 10) were eligible. RCTs were assessed using the Cochrane risk of bias tool. Meta-analysis was carried out using a random-effects model. Findings are presented in summary tables and forest plots.

Five RCTs (total n=402) and seven case series (total n=115) met the inclusion criteria. Pooled results from three multicenter RCTs show that ONS was associated with a mean reduction of 2.59 days (95% CI 0.91 to 4.27, I2=0%) of prolonged, moderate to severe headache per month at 3 months compared with a sham control. Results for other outcomes generally favour ONS over sham controls but quantitative analysis was hampered by incomplete publication and reporting of trial data. Lead migration and infections are common and often require revision surgery. Open-label follow-up of RCTs and case series suggest long-term effectiveness can be maintained in some patients but evidence is limited.

While the effectiveness of ONS compared to sham control has been shown in multiple RCTs, the average effect size is modest and may be exaggerated by bias as achieving effective blinding remains a methodological challenge. Further measures to reduce the risk of adverse events and revision surgery are needed.

Systematic Review Registration
this systematic review is an update and expanded work of part of a broader review registered with PROSPERO. Registration No. CRD42012002633.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0116786
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 20 Mar 2015


  • Migraine
  • Headaches
  • Case series
  • Adverse events
  • Randomized controlled trials
  • Prisms
  • Surgical and invasive medical procedures
  • Systematic reviews

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Medicine(all)


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