Background: Tension-type headache (TTH) is the most common type of primary headache however there is no clear evidence as to which specific treatment is most effective or whether combined treatment is more effective than individual treatments.
Aim: To assess the effectiveness of manual therapy techniques, applied to the suboccipital region, on aspects of disability in a sample of patients with tension-type headache.
Design: Randomized Controlled Trial.
Setting: Specialized centre for headache treatment.
Population: Seventy-six (62 women) patients (age: 39.9 ± 10.9 years) with episodic chronic TTH.
Methods: Patients were randomly divided into four treatment groups: 1) suboccipital soft tissue inhibition; 2) occiput-atlas-axis manipulation; 3) combined treatment of both techniques; 4) control. Four sessions were applied over 4 weeks and disability was assessed before and after treatment using the Headache Disability Inventory (HDI). Headache frequency, severity and the functional and emotional subscales of the questionnaire were assessed. Photophobia, phonophobia and pericranial tenderness were also monitored.
Results: Headache frequency was significantly reduced with the manipulative and combined treatment (P<0.05), and the severity and functional subscale of the HDI changed in all three treatment groups (P<0.05). Manipulation treatment also reduced the score on the emotional subscale of the HDI (P<0.05). The combined intervention showed a greater effect at reducing the overall HDI score compared to the group that received suboccipital soft tissue inhibition and to the control group (both P<0.05). In addition, photophobia, phonophobia and pericranial tenderness only improved in the group receiving combined therapy (P<0.05).
Conclusion: When given individually, suboccipital soft tissue inhibition and occiput-atlas-axis manipulation resulted in changes in different parameters related to the disability caused by TTH. However, when the two treatments were combined, effectiveness was noted for all aspects of disability and other symptoms including photophobia, phonophobia and pericranial tenderness.
Clinical rehabilitation impact: Although individual manual therapy treatments showed a positive change in headache features, measures of photophobia, photophobia and pericranial tenderness only improved in the group that received the combined treatment suggesting that combined treatment is the most appropriate for symptomatic relief of TTH.