Chronic headaches could be 'nerve entrapment'

December 19, 2011 3:12:36 PM PST
What happens when you have headaches day after day and you can't find out what causes them?

That's what a former City Councilman was dealing with -- years of headaches. Then he found a surprising answer: an unusual headache surgery that meant pain relief.

When Chris Bell got stressed, he'd have a headache. The former City Council Member and former Congressman, who ran for mayor and for governor, got a lot of headaches and he was living on Ibuprofen.

"You take the Ibuprofen and a short while later another headache is creeping back; take more, might take four, six, 10 Ibuprofen in one day," he said.

It wasn't migraines, and tests didn't give him an answer. Then he discovered he had what's called nerve entrapment.

"The nerve doesn't go around the muscle, it goes through it," said Bell's surgeon, Dr. Carlton Perry.

Dr. Perry says nerves should run under the muscle. But some people are born with a nerve that goes through the muscle. And every time they move their head or neck, the muscle squeezes the nerve causing the pain and inflammation.

"The inflammation coats the nerve and eventually when it becomes enough inflammation it starts to squeeze the nerve," Dr. Perry said.

Bell had 16 nerves like this. Dr. Perry removed the inflammation and made the holes in the muscle larger to avoid pinching the nerves.

"It was a little funny at first because your head's up here and then those nerves that had been dead for years and years and years are suddenly coming back to life," Bell said.

How do you know if your headaches are from nerve entrapment? Here are some clues.

"They'll say if I have my head down for long periods of time that will trigger a headache. Or if I lay my head on the side or if I lay on a pillow, it's painful," said Bell's neurologist, Dr. Pamela Blake.

For Bell, it was the answer. Six months later he says the bad headaches are gone.

"It has been phenomenal," Bell said.

Dr. Blake says many patients have headaches because of the way they use their computer. She says if your shoulders are elevated to type on your keyboard, it can strain muscles and cause headaches. That's simply a matter of setting up your computer differently.

For more information, visit Dr. Perry and Dr. Blake's website,

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