Advances in the pathophysiology of tension-type headache: from stress to central sensitization

Curr Pain Headache Rep. 2009 Dec;13(6):484-94. doi: 10.1007/s11916-009-0078-x.


Tension-type headache (TTH) is the most common and most socioeconomically costly headache. Yet our knowledge regarding TTH pathophysiological mechanisms is still in its early stages. Psychological stress and weak coping mechanisms may initiate and propagate physiological pain via activation of second messengers in downstream substrates involved in pain. It seems that peripheral mechanisms are predominant in the episodic type (ETTH), whereas central mechanisms are involved in the chronic type (CTTH) of tension headache. The conversion from ETTH to CTTH is most relevant to the clinician and the patient, as CTTH is the most debilitating. This paper focuses and summarizes our current understanding of central sensitization, the process by which this conversion occurs in TTH, and proposes an integrated model to explain how ETTH progresses into CTTH in genetically susceptible individuals.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Animals
  • Central Nervous System / physiopathology*
  • Disease Progression
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Humans
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology*
  • Tension-Type Headache / genetics
  • Tension-Type Headache / physiopathology*
  • Tension-Type Headache / psychology