​Cutting edge treatment for headaches

The pain is so intense that it feels as though your brain is coming through your skull, obliterating all attempts at any thought or movement. You lay still in the dark, and ice, ibuprofen, and stretching provide no relief. It begins to feel as if your body is simply a vehicle for this pounding, searing pain which takes on a life of its own, and quickly overcome you. You cannot function.

Everyone gets headaches from time to time, and there are many causes, from muscle tension to nerve damage to inflammation around the brain to name just a few. And, while medication like steroids or non-steroidal anti-inflammation drugs (like ibuprofen) can diminish the pain enough so that movement is possible, for certain headaches like cluster headaches or intense migraines, these methods don’t work. For these headaches, a fairly new method involving a sphenopalatine block is now being used with more regularity, which provides more relief to patients, according to Hartford Healthcare’s Dr. Annette Macannuco-Winslow, a pain specialist.

A sphenopalatine block stops pain from nerve through anesthesia. It works by placing a very small catheter in the nose followed by an injection of a local anesthetic in the cavity behind the nose. There are no needles and there is no significant discomfort associated with the procedure. Repetitive procedures are sometimes needed for longstanding benefit.
It’s not the first weapon providers should use on headaches, Macannuco-Winslow said, but it can be very effective for those with trigeminal neuralgia or facial nerve damage and migraines. She said it works in 75 percent of the patients seen.

According to Macannuco-Winslow, sphenopalatine blocks are used on patients who have tried everything else with no relief. The blocks very often lessen the need for other pain medicines, she said, decreasing the frequency and strength of the headaches. “Once individuals are coming to us, they’ve tried everything else,” she said. “They’ve done the dietary restrictions, they’ve done the supplements. They usually get a referral from a neurologist when they’re not responding to various medications.”

Hartford Healthcare Pain Treatment Center has been using this new non-invasive procedure for about a year and a half, Macannuco-Winslow said. Before starting, she said they do a complete patient history and physical examination. “We take the whole person into account,” she said. “At times our psychologist is needed, in an effort to help patients with the emotional toll and emotional triggers of the pain.”

Chronic pain can hurt work productivity, finances and family life. Although the block procedure seems a little daunting, Macannuco-Winslow says patients hardly ever hesitate undergoing the blockage. “Those individuals that are in a traumatic amount of pain are willing to do anything, which can be a little scary, but it makes it easier to proceed because they want this to stop,” she said. “They are at the end of the line.”

Although the sphenopalatine blocks tend to help patients most of the time, it’s important to remember that they do not permanently cure headaches, Mannacuno-Winslow said. The block can lessen the pain and allow patients to live better for a time. The benefit usually lasts for a couple of months before it should be repeated. This usually allows patients to reduce their reliance on medications, while improving the quality of their life.

Pain Treatment Center