Another Piece of the “Headache Puzzle”

[originally published in KCN, September 1998]

headache-puzzle-1Now while it’s true that we doctors still have a lot to learn — that’s why we’re always practicing — you would think that we would have our anatomy down pat. Right? Well not exactly.

It seems that a couple of Maryland dentists were doing some research on the muscles of the jaw. Their research involved the careful dissection of ten cadavers. Now in order for the dentists to properly view the muscles of the jaw for their research, they dissected the cadavers from an unconventional angle. As they did this, they uncovered a bit of anatomy in the neck that had never been discovered before. What they found was a connective tissue “bridge” that spanned from a tiny muscle in the neck [called the rectus capitis posterior minor muscle, which extends from the base of the skull to the first vertebrae in the neck] to the dura matter that surrounds the brain and spinal cord.

headache-puzzle-2Thinking that perhaps their initial finding was unique to the specimen that they were working on, they checked the rest of the cadavers. All ten of them had it! Nonetheless, the scientific community had its share of skeptics. But skepticism was curbed when the dentists demonstrated the connective tissue bridge using MRI on both cadavers and live subjects. Similar findings were echoed from a group of researchers in Australia. And to round it out, the discovery was verified on the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s Virtual Human Project — remember, the “perfect” male and female cadavers that were frozen, sectioned a few thousand times, photographed, and saved on a computer for 3-D reference — well, they had it too.

So what does this mean?

It’s another pheadache-puzzle-3iece of the headache puzzle! If you had a chance to read my January 1998 article (“Not Tonight Dear, I Have a Headache.”), you might recall that the scientific literature is now beginning to recognize what we chiropractors have known for over 100 years: some headaches can stem from the neck. What these dentists have provided is a direct anatomical link to how a misaligned vertebrae in the upper neck can place tension on the pain-sensitive dura matter of the brain and spinal cord and cause a headache.

To quote from the study, “While the notion that headaches may arise from the cervical (neck) structures may be new to some medical practitioners, it is a concept that is widely accepted by chiropractors, osteopaths, and other professionals who regularly perform manipulative procedures involving the cervical spine….In the U.S. more than 90% of such procedures are performed by chiropractors. The muscle-dura connection may represent — at least in part — the underlying anatomic basis for the effectiveness of this treatment.”

These findings can be found in the 1998 Medical and Health Annual published by Encyclopedia Britannica. Ironically, these findings were first reported back in 1995. So why haven’t you heard about this? Why wasn’t it in the newspaper or on TV? How come your doctor didn’t inform you? How come you weren’t told that direct anatomical evidence now exists that easily explains why chiropractic can help a significant percentage of headache sufferers?

Perhaps it’s an issue of credibility. In a society where all other health professions are subordinate to medicine, extraordinary amounts of research are necessary to gain any reasonable attention — despite the fact that a clear double-standard exists when only about 15% of conventional medical procedures have any credible scientific backing. Even when a treatment has scientifically been found to be effective, it can take years before this knowledge is commonplace with your medical doctor. In fact, evidence in a study out of the Annals of Internal Medicine suggest that the interventions that patients receive reflect what practitioners were taught in medical school, not what current therapies suggest is best.

Perhaps it’s an issue of publicity. Why is it that the world marvels, and all too quickly jumps on the bandwagon, over amazing drugs for weight control or male impotence? Simple. Publicity, and lots of it.

So if this anatomical discovery is new to you, I’m glad that I could add to your party conversation library bank. I’m also glad that I could enlighten you about chiropractic as an effective way to treat many headaches and not just mask them. Finally, I hope that you will appreciate the importance of keeping an open mind. After all, we’ve only been studying anatomy for 500 years. Who knows what we’ll discover tomorrow.

P.S. Give your dentist a pat on the back for a job well done.


Sources used for this article:
The anatomist’s new tools. 1998 Medical and Health Annual. Encyclopedia Britannica, 1997.
Anderson, et. al. Physician practices in the prevention of venous thromboembolism. Ann Intern Med. 115: 591-595, 1991.
Lawrence, D. J. ed. Year Book of Chiropractic 1998. (pg. xiii, 56). Mosby Year Book Inc. St. Louis, 1998.
Missing anatomical link supports chiropractic for headaches. Dynamic Chiropractic. 16 (13). June 15, 1998.
Moving to higher ground. Dynamic Chiropractic. 16 (13). June 15, 1998.
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