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Paula Thibodeaux was 38 years old when doctors told her that she had carpal tunnel syndrome. But she soon realized she had a much more serious condition when the pain in her right arm spread up to her neck and then out to the rest of her body.

An American Dentist Develops a Device for Treating Spasmodic Torticollis, Painful Spasms of the Muscles of the Neck

She lost control of her hands, started having difficulty standing up straight, and the muscles in her neck writhed in spasms so that she seemed to be nodding "no" even when no one was speaking.

"I could not drink from a glass because it would break when I tried to put it down," Paula reported. Neither could she brush her teeth or shampoo her hair, and when her symptoms were at their worst, she could not write, pick up a fork, or button her blouse.

A simple sling for carpal tunnel syndrome did Paula no good. Paula went from doctor to doctor for nearly three years before a doctor finally diagnosed her condition as cervical dystonia.

Cervical dystonia, also known as spasmodic torticollis, is a surprisingly common condition causing spasms of the muscles that support the neck. Affecting about 1 out of 300 adults in the United States and about 1 in 1500 adults worldwide, cervical dystonia does not kill, but it can rob its victims of every semblance of a normal life. In Paula's case, the contractions of the muscles in her neck were so severe that they tugged and pulled muscles all over her body, from the tips of her fingers to the tips of her toes, all because of the stress on her neck.

Paula was so desperate to get relief from her symptoms that she submitted to an experimental operation implanting electrodes deep in her brain to stop the spasms of her neck muscles. The risky procedure was a success, even though Paula thought her symptoms at least were not getting worse before she had the $200,000 operation.

Other sufferers of cervical dystonia submit to Botox injections to paralyze the muscles of the neck and face to stop pain, sometimes freezing the head cocked to one side or the other. Mainstream medicine seems to offer only drugs and surgery that work deep in the brain or that stop all function in affected muscles. But an American dentist named Brendan Stack offers a non-surgical, non-pharmaceutical treatment that seems actually to work.

Dr. Stack is a specialist in treating another debilitating disorder of movement, temperomandibular joint syndrome, which can cause painful "freezing" of the jaws. In treating patients with temperomandibular joint syndrome, Stack observed that significant improvements can be accomplished without drugs or surgery if "pressure" is taken off the nerves that control the neck muscles. The procedure is similar to treating an overbite, which puts pressure on the temperomandibular nerves.

The cranial nerves that control the muscles at the front and sides of the face enter the brain at the base of the skull. This passage to the brain is crowded with other nerves that convey pain messages to the brain as well as the nerves that control the lower bowel. Stack and his colleagues believe that these nerves can "cross talk," causing signals to jump from one nerve to the other, keeping the nerves powering the muscles of the neck constantly stimulated.

To take the physical pressure off these cranial nerves, Stack has created a dental device he calls the neurological vertical distractor. Fitting over the teeth at the sides of the mouth, this dental device slowly moves the lower jaw so that there is less pressure at the base of the skull.

When the nerves to the neck muscles are not so closely packed with other nerve fibers, Stack has discovered, contractions of the nerve muscles are reduced. Wearing the dental device for a few weeks can cause cervical dystonia almost to disappear.

Dr. Stack practices in Vienna, Virginia, in the USA, and can be reached through his website, A video of how this procedure works can be found on You Tube:

Many other dentists practice a similar therapy, identifying themselves as craniomadibular dental practitioners.