The aim of this study was to evaluate the function of pain modulating systems subserving diffuse noxious inhibitory controls (DNICs) in primary headaches. DNICs were examined in 24 migraineurs, 17 patients with chronic tension-type headache (CTTH) and 20 healthy subjects by means of nociceptive flexion RIII reflex and the cold pressor test (CPT) as heterotopic noxious conditioning stimulation (HNCS). The subjective pain thresholds (Tp) and the RIII reflex threshold (Tr) were significantly lower in CTTH vs. controls. In controls a significant inhibition of the RIII reflex was observed during the CPT (-30%, P < 0.05). Conversely, migraine and CTTH patients showed facilitation (+31%, P < 0.05 and +40%, P < 0.01, respectively) of the RIII reflex during the HNCS. This study demonstrates a dysfunction in systems subserving DNICs in both migraine and CTTH. Impairment of endogenous supraspinal pain modulation systems may contribute to the development and/or maintenance of central sensitization in primary headaches.