More than three-quarters of households in the United States own a computer. Combined with the number of smartphones, the daily use of computers in this country continues to be on the rise.
But as most users will tell you, computers can evoke constant feelings of ambivalence. Even though they seem to make our lives easier, they can also become sources of staggering frustration.
We can have a similar relationship with the central processing unit of our own bodies. Despite all the good our nerves and brain do for us they can also malfunction and cause inordinate amounts of pain. Migraines, in particular, are a debilitating condition that negatively affects more than ten percent of the population.
Fortunately, physicians like those at Prairie Spine and Pain Institute in Peoria are gaining a better understanding of migraines and, more importantly, how to treat and prevent them.
Hitting Close to Home
Just as a crashing or virus-infected computer can cause no end of difficulties, the virulent headache known as a migraine is often only the surface problem. Nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sounds are some of the most common issues associated with them. Migraines can also be disabling, putting some people in bed for a day or even three days at a time before relief is finally forthcoming.
With the number of migraine sufferers in this country nearing 40 million, most people probably know at least one person who experiences crushing headaches and their concurrent symptoms. Dr. Richard Kube, orthopedic spine surgeon at Prairie Spine, and physician’s assistant, Andrew Kitterman, are personally close to migraines on both the treating and receiving end.
“My own daughter is a patient, so there are added reasons for my interest in treating headaches,” shares Dr. Kube. “Migraines can impact daily life and productivity as much as many of the spinal ailments we treat.”
“I personally suffer from migraine headaches; they can be debilitating,” Andrew adds. “I have missed school and work due to migraines.”
Of the myriad potential causes and triggers of migraines, Dr. Kube and Andrew have found even more correlations. Patients who suffer from neck pain and trauma also commonly suffer from migraines.
As so many of their patients experience both chronic neck pain and migraine headaches, they saw the logic in adding a headache program to their practice. “We understand that patients can choose a number of places for treatment, which is why we treat them like consumers,” adds Dr. Kube. “Through listening to our patients, we more fully understand the entire problem and all the symptoms experienced as best we can. Then we are best equipped to solve it ourselves or make an appropriate referral to another specialist.”
Modern Medicine Without the Medicine
Most physicians will tell you a lot of medicines do little to actually cure the ailments for which they are intended. They work, instead, to treat or mask the symptoms of the malady. Migraine medications are no exception, and many have the added drawback of potential side effects.
At Prairie Spine, they prefer to offer high-quality treatment options while acknowledging there is still a place for medication in treating migraines and other causes of pain. “In the past few years, there has been the development of new medications and a better understanding of some of the mechanisms and pathways that cause migraine headaches, such as the calcitonin gene-related peptide,” Andrew explains. “But if I can avoid putting people on medications or exposing them to higher-risk procedures, then I will.”
Non-medicinal, safe procedures known as ganglionic blocks have proven very effective in treating migraines—not just masking their symptoms of them. “We have found that most patients respond very well to the ganglion blocks and do not need to use additional medications for the most part,” Andrew states.
“And by using the ganglionic blocks in the central nervous system,” Dr. Kube puts in, “we have been able to expand treatment options and to offer a cost-effective, low-risk, minimally invasive option that provides relief for months, often without the need for any added drugs or injections.”
Have You Tried Turning It Off and On Again?
Anyone who has used a frustratingly malfunctioning computer will find the simple act of rebooting it will clear most problems. Dr. Kube explains that ganglionic blocks, specifically the sphenopalatine ganglion (SPG) block and trigeminal ganglion (TG) block, in very simple terms, act much in the same way.
“The block acts as a hard reset to nerves of the central nervous system,” the doctor says. “Nerves can often be in a negative loop whereby once stimulated, smaller stimuli are needed to irritate them. It causes a ramping effect in the frequency and severity of painful headaches. By blocking the trigeminal and sphenopalatine ganglion centers responsible for headache, you can reset the loop.”
The procedure is not only simple, but also with minimal discomfort—similar to getting a COVID test. A thin catheter is placed intranasally (up into the nose) using X-ray guidance, whereby the local anesthetic, lidocaine, is spread over the ganglionic nerve centers. No needles or sedation are used, and the entire procedure lasts about 15 minutes.
“This procedure has a very low risk and side effect profile and can help patients discontinue or reduce the amount of pain medicine they are taking,” Andrew points out. “Up to 80 percent of patients will show significant improvement in headache symptoms within 24 hours.”
While resetting the nerves through ganglion blocks is not a new concept, cites Dr. Kube, the delivery system and treatment have advanced, lessening the risk and discomfort to the patient while increasing efficacy and longevity. Furthermore, the nose is anesthetized to make the entire procedure more comfortable. “A minor nosebleed would be the only complication or concern for most people,” the doctor assures. “Treatment often provides complete headache relief for months.”
To a Brighter Tomorrow
Those of the older generations can still remember a time when computers took up entire rooms and had only a fraction of the computing power of a modern cellphone. As computers shrink in size, the human ability to understand and improve these marvels is inversely proportional.
Thankfully, medical science and its comprehension of the human computer and its ailments are no different. “Our understanding of migraine headaches continues to improve, and new research is still being performed,” Andrew says. “Procedures like the SPG and TG block as well as some new medications give patients hope that they may be able to live migraine-free, which allows them to live without constant fear.”
“I believe newer treatments are a reason for optimism,” Dr. Kube agrees. “My daughter used to have daily migraines. Her most recent TG/SPG block was last June, and now, 11 months later, she hasn’t had a migraine since. In her particular case, that was her third block. Each block has lasted longer than the previous one, and relief has been almost immediate.”
Thanks to work like this done at Prairie Spine and Pain Institute, those who suffer from migraines need no longer fear the brightness of a sunny day, the sounds of the surrounding world, or the debilitating pain and nausea of a migraine. Instead, they can experience relief and look to a day when their migraines will be nothing but an unpleasant memory.
Prairie Spine and Pain Institute is located at 7620 North University Street, Suite 104, in Peoria, Illinois. If you or a loved one suffers from migraines and you would like to find out what we can do for you, please call us at (309) 691-7774. If you would like to learn more about how we can help lessen or eliminate your pain, visit us on the web at www.prairiespine.com.