Chronic tension-type headache: what is new?

Curr Opin Neurol. 2009 Jun;22(3):254-61. doi: 10.1097/WCO.0b013e32832973ce.


Purpose of review: This review discusses current data on nosological boundaries related to diagnosis, pathophysiology and therapeutic strategies in chronic tension-type headache (CTTH).

Recent findings: Diagnostic criteria of CTTH should be adapted to improve its sensitivity against migraine. It seems that mechanical pain sensitivity is a consequence and not a causative factor of CTTH. Recent evidence is modifying previous knowledge about relationships between muscle tissues and CTTH, suggesting a potential role of muscle trigger points in the genesis of pain. An updated pain model suggests that headache perception can be explained by referred pain from trigger points in the craniocervical muscles, mediated through the spinal cord and the trigeminal nucleus caudalis rather than only tenderness of the muscles themselves. Different therapeutic strategies, pharmacological, physical therapy, psychological and acupuncture, are generally used. The therapeutic efficacy of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs remains incomplete. The tricyclic antidepressants are the most used first-line therapeutic agents for CTTH. Surprisingly, few controlled studies have been performed and not all of them have found an efficacy superior to placebo. Further, there is insufficient evidence to support/refute the efficacy of physical therapy in CTTH.

Summary: Although there is an increasing scientific interest in CTTH, future studies incorporating subgroups of patients who will likely to benefit from a specific treatment (clinical prediction rules) should be conducted.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acupuncture
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / therapeutic use
  • Comorbidity
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Fibromyalgia / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Migraine Disorders / physiopathology
  • Pain / physiopathology
  • Pressure
  • Tension-Type Headache* / drug therapy
  • Tension-Type Headache* / physiopathology


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal