Stratifying migraine patients based on dynamic pain provocation over the upper cervical spine

J Headache Pain. 2017 Sep 26;18(1):97. doi: 10.1186/s10194-017-0808-0.


Background: Migraine patients usually report a high prevalence of neck pain preceding or during the migraine attack. A recent investigation of musculoskeletal dysfunctions in migraine patients concluded that neck pain is not simply a symptom of the migraine attack but corresponds to identifiable muscle and joint alterations. Particularly pain provocation using palpation of the joints in the upper cervical spine was significantly more prevalent in patients with migraine than in headache-free participants.

Methods: One hundred seventy-nine migraineurs (diagnosed according to IHS classification criteria version III beta) and 73 age- and gender-matched healthy controls were examined by a physiotherapist blinded towards the diagnosis, using a palpation technique over the upper cervical spine. The palpation combined oscillating movements and sustained pressure.

Findings: Using simple palpation of the upper cervical spine, migraine patients can be stratified into three groups: painfree (11%), local pain only (42%), and pain referred to the head during sustained pressure (47%). Combining both test components (palpation and sustained pressure) has a high sensitivity and specificity for migraine.

Conclusions: The response to palpation of the upper cervical spine may indicate migraine subtypes. The presence of musculoskeletal dysfunctions of the upper cervical spine should be identified and treated to avoid ongoing nociceptive input into the trigeminocervical complex.

Trial registration: German Clinical Trial Register DRKS-ID: DRKS00009622 .

Keywords: Headache; Musculoskeletal dysfunction; Neck muscles; Neck pain; Palpation; Upper cervical spine.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cervical Vertebrae / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Migraine Disorders / classification*
  • Migraine Disorders / complications
  • Migraine Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Neck Muscles / physiopathology*
  • Neck Pain / diagnosis*
  • Neck Pain / etiology
  • Palpation / methods*
  • Palpation / standards
  • Sensitivity and Specificity