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Published on February 18, 2014

Less Head Pain Means More Good Times

Greg and Andrea MillisAlmost 20 years ago, Greg Millis broke four neck vertebrae in a diving accident. After a year of recovery, followed by physical therapy, he went back to work, got married, had a family, and even went back to playing and eventually coaching hockey.

But when frequent and intense headaches returned a year ago, Greg needed help. He found it at MidMichigan Health Park–Mt. Pleasant, where physical therapy enabled him to control his headaches and take back his life.

“I’m not a complainer,” Greg said, “but I was getting two headaches a week and it was horrible. I would have to go home at lunch, not eat, go right to bed, turn off all the lights, put pillows over my head and beg for silence.”

Greg and his wife, Andrea, have two daughters. It was distressing that the headaches were affecting both his job and his family life. “My daughter would come home from school and I couldn’t help her with homework. My wife would make dinner and I couldn’t eat. She’d tell Chloe, ‘Dad doesn’t feel good; let’s leave him alone.’”

Greg remembers using lots of over-the-counter pain medication every month, keeping extra bottles in his desk and his truck because he never knew when the pain was going to get unbearable.

Then a new family medicine advanced practice provider gave him a new start. Physician Assistant April Kastning, P.A.-C., suggested he try physical therapy, and recommended Lori Pittsley, P.T., at MidMichigan Health Park–Mt. Pleasant.

“I was skeptical because I’d been fighting some of these problems for years,” Greg said. “I’d worked with spine and pain doctors, had nerve testing, tried muscle relaxers and anti-inflammatories. Nothing ever worked.”

To say the least, Greg’s condition was complicated. Problems with his injury were mainly on the right side of his neck. Then years after the accident, surgery for cancer in his shoulder also removed muscle tissue from the left side of his neck.

He worked with Lori twice a week for six months, then once a week for two more. She gave him stretching and range-of-motion exercises that he hadn’t seen before, and had him sleep with a neck brace to keep from tucking his chin. She also had Greg log his pain daily, using a zero-to-10 scale, and pay attention to what he ate.

“That impressed me. It was something no one else had ever done. We reviewed the data every week and hit on a couple of patterns,” Greg said. “I noted waking up with a level nine headache after eating chocolate birthday cake the night before. It also happened after I’d had a candy bar at 9:30 p.m.” Now he skips sweets at night.

After also discovering that evening caffeine could mean morning head pain, he now drinks coffee only in the morning. “I come home from work and drink water, water, water. The more water I drink, the less I get headaches, so now I’m a water junkie.”

Lori explained that, while Greg could not eliminate his headaches, he could limit them and work to overcome them. In addition, she coordinated with April Kastning, who prescribed a migraine medication. Greg said it works, and he’s completely off other pain medication, but his prescription covers just eight pills per month and has some side effects. As a result, he doesn’t automatically take it if he gets a headache.

“Instead, I do exercises, and the next thing I know I’m on top of it,” he said. “Other mornings, I keep doing my exercises, take a migraine pill, do other things, and by the time I leave for work I’m fine. I’ll get to the end of the month and have five pills left. It’s like winning a gold medal!”

Greg hasn’t missed any work in the last eleven months. “Even if I wake up with a headache, I don’t lay in bed the rest of the day,” he said. “My wife will tell me to go upstairs, change clothes and do my exercises. It really helps. I’ll come down 20 or 30 minutes later, smiling, in a good mood.”

Less head pain means more good times. “I’m spending more time with my girls,” he said. “And I’m looking forward to hockey season. I’m a very active person, and now I know I’ll be able to be active.”

Greg feels fortunate that he could have physical therapy just three miles from his house and one mile from work. “I would have driven to Lansing for this kind of help, but having care in Mt. Pleasant was wonderful. They would even schedule me when it was best for my work commitments,” he said. “I will ever be indebted to Lori. She taught me ways to improve my life.”

MidMichigan offers comprehensive rehabilitation services designed for all patients. Those interested in more information may visit www.midmichigan.org/rehab.