Preliminary results, methodological considerations and recruitment difficulties of a randomised clinical trial comparing two treatment regimens for patients with headache and neck pain

BMC Musculoskelet Disord. 2009 Sep 23;10:115. doi: 10.1186/1471-2474-10-115.


Background: Headache is a highly prevalent disorder. Irrespective of the headache diagnosis it is often accompanied with neck pain and -stiffness. Due to this common combination of headache and neck pain, physical treatments of the cervical spine are often considered. The additional value of these treatments to standard medical care or usual care (UC) is insufficiently documented.We therefore wanted to compare the treatment effects of UC alone and in combination with manual therapy (MT) in patients with a combination of headache and neck pain. UC consisted of a stepped treatment approach according to the Dutch General Practitioners Guideline for headache, the additional MT consisted of articular mobilisations and low load exercises.Due to insufficient enrolment the study was terminated prematurely. We aim to report not only our preliminary clinical findings but also to discuss the encountered difficulties and to formulate recommendations for future research.

Methods: A randomised clinical trial was conducted. Thirty-seven patients were included and randomly allocated to one of both treatment groups. The treatment period was 6 weeks, with follow-up measurements at weeks 7, 12 and 26. Primary outcome measures were global perceived effect (GPE) and the impact of the headache using the Headache Impact Test (HIT-6). Reduction in headache frequency, pain intensity, medication intake, absenteeism and the use of additional professional help were secondary outcome measures

Results: Significant improvements on primary and secondary outcome measures were recorded in both treatment groups. No significant differences between both treatment groups were found. The number of recruited patients remained low despite various strategies.

Conclusion: It appears that both treatment strategies can have equivalent positive influences on headache complaints. Additional studies with larger study populations are needed to draw firm conclusions. Recommendations to increase patient inflow in primary care trials, such as the use of an extended network of participating physicians and of clinical alert software applications, are discussed.

Trial registration number: NCT00298142.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Exercise Therapy / methods
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Headache / complications*
  • Headache / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Musculoskeletal Manipulations / methods
  • Neck Pain / complications*
  • Neck Pain / therapy*
  • Patient Selection*
  • Treatment Outcome

Associated data