Remedial Massage Therapy Interventions Including and Excluding Sternocleidomastoid, Scalene, Temporalis, and Masseter Muscles for Chronic Tension Type Headaches: a Case Series

Int J Ther Massage Bodywork. 2020 Feb 26;13(1):22-31. eCollection 2020 Mar.


Background: Tension-type headache (TTH) is the most prevalent primary headache type world-wide. Chronic TTH (CTTH) of >15 headache-affected days per month for > 3 months can cause considerable pain and disability.

Purpose: This case series aimed to investigate whether massage therapy interventions were more effective when muscles of the anterior neck, jaw, and cranium were included.

Design: Four female clients suffering CTTH received six pre-determined massage therapy interventions, 45 minutes each, over three weeks. Case A and B (exclusion cases) received interventions addressing shoulder, posterior neck, and occiput muscles; Case C and D (inclusions cases) received interventions addressing the same areas as well as the sternocleidomastoid, scalene, temporalis, and masseter muscles.

Intervention: Treatment included myofascial trigger point release, neuromuscular therapy, and consideration of central sensitization mechanisms present in CTTH.

Outcome measures: Headache frequency (primary), intensity, and duration (secondary) were recorded via headache diaries for baseline measures (one week), interventions (three weeks), and a runout period (two weeks). Secondary measures also included a headache disability inventory (HDI) at baseline, intervention conclusion, and final measures. After final measures, clients received stretching education and four weeks later, a follow-up phone conversation to note subjective headache reports.

Results: All cases had headache frequency and HDI score reductions, while intensity and duration measures fluctuated. At final measures, exclusion Case A and both inclusion cases (C and D) had headache frequency reductions to below CTTH diagnostic criteria, clinically meaningful (> 16%) HDI score reductions, and subjectively reported continued improvements after study completion. Inclusion cases overall had greater decreases in headache frequency and HDI measures.

Conclusion: Comparative results suggest there may be additional benefit in reducing headache frequency and disability with inclusion of anterior neck, jaw, and cranial muscles in treatment strategies of CTTH. However, limited sample size makes it difficult to rule out outliers or individual variables. Further investigation is recommended.

Keywords: central sensitization; chronic tension-type headaches (CTTH); headache disability inventory (HDI); massage therapy; masseter; myofascial trigger point; neuromuscular therapy; scalene; sternocleidomastoid; temporalis; trigger point release.