The Cervical Spine in Tension Type Headache

Cervical Model headache

Tension-type headache (TTH) is a prevalent and burdensome condition that affects many individuals. Recent research suggests that the cervical spine, specifically the trigemino-cervical nucleus caudalis, may play a role in the development of TTH. This nucleus facilitates the exchange of pain signals between the upper cervical spine and the trigeminal nerve, which is involved in headache generation. 

cervical headache model

Links between the upper cervical spine and TTH

Studies have shown that individuals with TTH often exhibit musculoskeletal impairments. Common findings include forward head posture and restricted cervical range of motion. These physical dysfunctions may contribute to the headache symptoms experienced by TTH patients. Neck pain and sensitivity in the cervical spine are frequently reported alongside TTH and may worsen the clinical presentation of the headache. These symptoms could be epiphenomena resulting from the sensitization of the trigemino-cervical nucleus caudalis.

While forward head posture is a common observation in TTH, its direct relevance to the headache remains a topic of debate. Similarly, the relationship between restricted cervical range of motion and TTH is not well understood. It is uncertain whether these musculoskeletal impairments are causative factors or consequences of the headache.

Clinicians often use the cervical flexion-rotation test to assess upper cervical spine mobility, which has proven useful in diagnosing cervicogenic headache. However, its application and significance in TTH are not extensively studied. Further research is needed to elucidate the role of this test in TTH diagnosis and management.

Another intriguing observation is the reproduction of headache pain through manual stimulation of the upper cervical spine in both cervicogenic headache and TTH. This suggests that referred pain from the cervical spine may be involved in the pathophysiology of primary headaches. Understanding this mechanism could lead to novel therapeutic approaches for TTH.

Additionally, trigger points in the neck-shoulder muscles may contribute to TTH symptoms by generating muscle referred pain. These trigger points can refer pain to other areas, including the head, and may exacerbate the headache experienced by individuals with TTH. 


Managing TTH in practice

A multidisciplinary approach involving physical therapy interventions targeting musculoskeletal impairments, exercise, and psychological aspects is essential for the management of TTH. The effectiveness of cervical treatment approaches varies, and personalized strategies should be tailored to individual patients. Understanding the role of the cervical spine in TTH and differentiating between cervical components and sources can aid in the recognition and treatment of diverse headache presentations. 

Our cervical spine models help professionals manage the connections between TTH and the role of the cervical spine.

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