For many folks, headaches are often more annoying than painful. But for Kathy Dahms, the pain of her constant headaches was enough to interfere with her daily routine and enjoyment of life.
“I don’t remember what it felt like to not have a headache,” Kathy says after being treated at The Pain Center at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital.
In 2008, Kathy began experiencing headaches once every other week. She recalls the intense pressure behind her eyes and in her sinus cavities.
“The headaches felt like sinus infections,” Kathy says.
The headaches became more painful and more intense as time went on. About a year after the headaches began, her headaches became so intense that she would be late for work. Soon she began to miss work two or three days a week, twice a month.
“I had a constant headache,” Kathy remembers. “The pain was absolutely horrible.”
Taking antibiotics for two years helped Kathy manage the pain from her constant headaches. But after a few months, the headaches returned and so did the pain.
Kathy continued to miss work several days each month as well as family gatherings and holiday celebrations. The agonizing pain from her headaches, a multiple sclerosis diagnosis, and side effects from medication caused her to slip into depression.
Her doctors were convinced that a sinus infection was causing her constant headaches. After a CT scan, Kathy’s doctors discovered a polyp in one of her sinuses. She underwent surgery on her sinuses in November 2009. Kathy’s headaches disappeared after the surgery, then returned in February.
Kathy decided to switch to a new physician. Her new doctor couldn’t determine the cause of Kathy’s constant, horribly painful headaches, so he referred her to The Pain Center.
During Kathy’s first appointment, she met with Karen Hanson, a psychologist, and Dr. Hudson, The Pain Center physician. After two weeks, her doctor confirmed that Kathy was suffering from stress headaches.
“My (new) doctor just knew that it wasn’t a sinus infection,” Kathy says.
“I was so tight,” she adds, recalling the stiffness of the muscles in her neck. “The veins in my neck felt like rubber bands. I couldn’t move my head or neck sometimes.”
Kathy began treatment at The Pain Center soon after her diagnosis. Her sessions were spent working with a physical therapist. During each session, her physical therapist helped her to do various neck-stretching exercises for half an hour. She also did exercises to stretch her back.
Something miraculous happened for Kathy – her headache went away after the very first session.
Along with breathing techniques taught by her psychologist, Kathy’s physical therapist taught her how to stretch and correctly position her computer keyboard on her desk to avoid neck strain.
Kathy still gets stress headaches occasionally, but they have almost completely disappeared.
“They’re nothing like they were before,” she says.
After finding relief from her headaches, Kathy jumped back on track to achieving some of her goals. She earned her bachelor’s degree in April 2011, and hopes to earn her MBA from Davenport University.
“I was feeling wonderful last summer,” she says. “If my headaches hadn’t gone away, I wouldn’t have been able to go back to school.”
Kathy is now able to manage her headaches on her own. She does stretches to alleviate tension in her neck before headaches begin. She takes over-the-counter medications if her headaches become painful. She also schedules time for neck and back massages to relieve tension that leads to headaches.
Thanks to her physical therapy sessions at The Pain Center, Kathy can go up to three months without experiencing a headache.
“I can’t thank The Pain Center staff enough,” Kathy says. “There were no obstacles to healing. They are truly miracle workers. I honestly think that they saved my life.”