Doctors Use Surgery to Relieve Lingering Concussion Pain

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The Centers for Disease Control estimates that more than 170,000 children and teens end up in the emergency room every year with traumatic brain injuries, including concussions, caused by sports or a recreation activity. Those numbers have jumped 60 percent over the last decade.

Children are more likely to get concussions from a blow to the head than adults, and take longer to heal, according to the CDC.

A neurosurgeon who works in the brain injury program at Boston Children's Hospital believes only a small percentage of concussion patients suffer the long-term incapacitating pain that Marianna did. Dr. Mark Proctor said doing nerve surgery for headaches is well established, but he had not heard of anyone "doing this type of surgery for a post-concussive type of headache."

"If [Ducic is] right, it could be a real potential boon for these patients," said Proctor, who cautioned that he would like to see the evidence of its efficacy. "It's the sort of thing you want to approach carefully and be certain he is truly correct."

Crutchfield and Ducic are still working to publish their data, but say the procedure has now been done on more than 50 concussion patients, most ages 17 to 25. Ducic says the patients must meet strict criteria: three to six months of headaches, treatment by a headache specialist, tests to ensure nothing else is causing the headaches, and a nerve block to see if that helps, before he accepts them for surgery.

He's passionate about helping these concussion patients.

"Young people with post-concussion headaches shouldn't just be given drug after drug every three months," he said, "and they shouldn't be told your headache is due to the concussion; we can't do anything."

Excruciating headaches also brought 18-year old Christian Stephenson to Ducic. A soccer and lacrosse player, Stephenson had suffered three concussions over three years, but it was the last one in his senior year of high school that brought the throbbing, burning pain in his head. The headaches were so bad that he had to drop out of college just after starting his freshman year.

Stephenson had his surgery last October. For him, it took about four weeks for the headaches to clear completely. He was able to return to college this winter.

"Before, my entire day revolved around headaches," said Stephenson. "Now, they are one of the last concerns I have."

Concussion doctor Crutchfield is a true believer.

"We're getting kids back to school," he said. "I've gotten elite athletes back to competitions and regular folks back to work. It's a game changer."

Marianna couldn't agree more. Four months after her surgery she got to do something she never would have dreamed of. She got to attend her high school prom and was able to stay the whole evening, without a headache.

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