Monday, December 11, 2006

Cervical Mobilization in Post Traumatic Headache/Cervicalgia by By Sherman Gorbis, DO, FAAO

All osteopathic physicians, in their first two years of osteopathic medical college training, are taught Osteopathic Palpatory Diagnosis and Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment (OMT). OMT is one type of manual medicine. OMT is defined as “The therapeutic application of manually guided forces by an osteopathic physician to improve physiologic function and/or support homeostasis that have been altered by somatic dysfunction” (1). Somatic dysfunction is defined as “Impaired or altered function of related components of the somatic (body framework) system: skeletal, arthrodial, and myofascial structures, and related vascular, lymphatic, and neural elements.” Somatic dysfunction is treated using OMT (1). The diagnostic triad for diagnosing somatic dysfunction is ART:

* Asymmetry-determined visually and by palpation
* Restriction of motion-determined by palpation
* Tissue texture abnormality-determined by palpation

Traumatic cervicalgia (neck pain) can occur as a result of a motor vehicle accident (commonly during/after a whiplash injury where the head and neck are thrown forward/backward), sports related injury, or a fall (such as from a ladder, horse, etc).

It would be very common and not un-expected for the patient who has experienced trauma to have Post Traumatic Headache/Cervicalgia (neck pain) with accompanying somatic dysfunction in her/his cervical spine (bones that make up the neck). The cervical spine is divided into two regions based on their motion characteristics:

Atypical cervical vertebrae. This includes C0-C2 (the upper surface of C2). C0 is the occipital bone, which is located in the lower back area of the skull. The occiput articulates (joined together to allow motion between them) with the first cervical vertebra, C1. C1 articulates with the second cervical vertebra, C2. Several muscles that have attachments in the cervical spine, or below, also attach to the occiput. When these muscles become hypertonic (a sustained contraction but not a spasm (as with a ‘charley horse'), headache can occur. If restriction of motion is present between vertebrae, due to a disruption in the motion of the facets (small joints between the vertebrae which have pain generators) neck pain and headache can occur.

The headache may also result from irritation of the right and/or left greater occipital nerve. This travels through the articulation between the occiput and the first cervical vertebra. It then travels up behind the ear and forward along the temple.

Typical cervical vertebrae. This includes C2-T1 (the lower surface of C2-the upper surface of T1). As above, both muscle hypertonicity and motion restriction can lead to headache and neck pain

Once a physician evaluates the patient who has been involved in trauma and he/she has determined that no contraindications (special conditions that render the use of the procedure inadvisable, usually due to risk) exist for manual medicine, the manual medicine provider then has several options. Various types of OMT include:

Soft tissue. This refers is directed toward tissues other than bone or joints (1).

Muscle energy. The patient voluntarily moves the body as specifically directed by the operator; this is from a precisely controlled position against a defined resistance by the operator (1). Muscle energy is, for the most part, directed at loosening tight muscles using isometric (the muscle does not shorten during the contraction) contractions of the affected muscles. It is also directed at providing proper motion of the facet joints between the vertebrae. Facet joints are located both on the inferior and superior surfaces of vertebrae to allow one vertebra to move freely in relation to the vertebra below. Muscle energy techniques can treat facets that are either dysfunctionally ‘opened' or ‘closed'.

Direct Action Thrust (Mobilization with Impulse). Uses a high-velocity/low-amplitude activation, or thrust, to move a joint that is experiencing somatic dysfunction to help restore appropriate physiologic motion (1). This can be, sometimes, accompanied by an audible ‘click' or ‘pop'. However, the goal of treatment is the restoration of motion, not the presence of the sound.

Myofascial Release. This approach engages continual palpatory (the provider's hands in contact with the patient) feedback to achieve release of myofascial (muscles and their soft tissue/fascial coverings) tissues. This can be employed when tissue hypertonicity is present without severe motion restriction.

Other types of OMT include functional indirect and cranio-sacral.

Chiropractic physicians are traditionally trained in the use of Direct Action Thrust. Physical Therapists are well trained in stretching and strengthening exercises; however, more recently, a large number of PT's have been learning the above approaches as well. It would behoove the patient with Post Traumatic Headache/Cervicalgia to have a dialogue with his/her manual medicine provider. The patient should inquire as to the provider's training and the type of modality(s) that might be used and why. Clinical experience has shown that most patients do well when manual medicine is used synergistically with proper stretching/strengthening exercises.

Many insurance companies cover OMT and many osteopathic physicians who include OMT in their practices accept these plans. It is always helpful for the patient to inquire with his/her insurance company, as well as the provider, regarding coverage.

Ward RC, exec. ed. Foundations for Osteopathic Medicine 2 nd ed. Philadelphia : Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2003.
American Academy of Osteopathy (AAO)
This group's mission is to teach, advocate, advance, explore, and research the science and art of osteopathic medicine, emphasizing osteopathic principles, philosophy, palpatory diagnosis and OMT in total health care. Most, if not all, members use OMT in some degree in their practices.
Phone (317) 879-1881
Fax (317) 879-0563
American Osteopathic Association (AOA)
Patients can inquire about educational materials regarding OMT.

Sherman Gorbis, DO, FAAO is a graduate of the Kansas City (MO) College of Osteopathic Medicine . He interned at Riverside Osteopathic Hospital ( Trenton , MI ). He earned his certification in Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine (OMM) in 1991 and his Fellowship in the American Academy of Osteopathy (FAAO) in 1995. He is presently an Associate Professor in the Department of OMM at Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine ( East Lansing , MI ).


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