Headache relief without pills

March 27, 2008 A Cherry Hill, New Jersey doctor is using an unusual method to help patients, for whom the throbbing and pounding never seems to go away.

For 20 years, Jamie Gordon's favorite view of the world has been the view through the lense of her camera.

"It's about the feeling. I want to capture that. I want to take it home in my box," said Jamie.

But that feeling nearly disappeared three years ago when ordinary, occasional headaches snowballed into daily migraines.

"It's like a knife in my eye," she said.

Despite a string of medications and treatments, the pain persisted. Jamie's photography ended, and so did her driving.

"I felt like part of me was dying, and truthfully, part of me was," said Jamie.

But on a visit to Dr. Scott Greenberg, Jamie discovered a solution called prolotherapy.

Dr. Greenberg injects a combination of anesthetic called lidocaine and dextrose (a sugar) into areas in Jamie's neck and shoulder where he believes ligaments or tendons are damaged.

"We see damage in the cervical joints, and also in the back of the head where all the muscles go up and insert into the back of the skull," said Dr. Greenberg.

Ligaments, tendons, and cartilage have poor blood supplies, so when they are injured, they can be slow to heal.

"In addition, sometimes we take anti-inflammatories like Motrin or Advil that block the healing process," he said.

The injections, given every 3 to 4 weeks, are intended to reduce inflammation and jump-start the healing.

"What the dextrose does is basically causes the release of growth factors out of the tissues," said Greenberg.

Prolotherapy has been around since the 1930s, but was used largely for sports injuries, not headaches.

Today advocates for its use to treat headaches and other ailments include former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop.

A clinical trial on prolotherapy is underway with the National Institutes of Health.

For months, 16-year-old Laura Allen suffered head-crushing pain, apparently triggered by a bad reaction to a vaccination.

"It was to the point where I couldn't get out of bed. I was photophonic and photophobic, which is light and sound sensitive," she said.

It took a long time, and Laura admits the shots were painful, but she says they were worth it.

"I do not have pain from them anymore," she said.

Dr. Greenberg became a believer in prolotherapy after giving himself the shots in a last-ditch effort to relieve headaches that he suffered long after a car accident.

The pain nearly derailed his medical career, but today, he leads a full and active life.

"I bike ride. I play hockey. I work out. I work all day long, and I don't get headaches," he said.

Unlike steroid injections, which provide only temporary relief for some pain, prolotherapy injections, given over a period of several months, usually provide permanent relief.

Dr. Greenberg says the length of treatment depends on the extent of the injury, but treatment can be started even years after the initial injury.

Once there is some relief, it should last as long as there's no new injury to the area. Most Insurance companies cover some part of the cost of the treatment.

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