Pain sensitivity in relation to frequency of migraine and tension-type headache with or without coexistent neck pain: an exploratory secondary analysis of the population study

Scand J Pain. 2022 Sep 26. doi: 10.1515/sjpain-2022-0030. Online ahead of print.


Objectives: We aimed to investigate whether coexistent self-reported neck pain influences cephalic and extracephalic pain sensitivity in individuals with migraine and tension-type headache (TTH) in relation to diagnosis and headache frequency.

Methods: A population of 496 individuals completed a headache interview based on ICHD criteria, providing data collected by self-administered questionnaires, assessments of pericranial total tenderness score (TTS) and pressure pain thresholds (PPT). Stimulus-response (SR) functions for pressure vs. pain were recorded. Presence of neck pain in the past year was assessed by the self-administered questionnaire. We categorized participants by primary headache type. We also categorized participants into 3 groups by headache frequency: chronic (≥15) or episodic (<15 headache days/month) headache and controls. TTS, PPTs and the area under the SR curve were compared between subgroups using Generalized Linear Models with pairwise comparisons controlling for age and sex.

Results: Individuals with chronic followed by episodic headache had higher TTS than controls (overall p≤0.001). The difference between chronic and episodic headache subgroups was significant in the group with neck pain (p≤0.001) but not in the group without neck pain. In individuals with neck pain, mean TTS was higher in coexistent headache (migraine and TTH), 23.2 ± 10.7, and pure TTH, 17.8 ± 10.3, compared to pure migraine, 15.9 ± 10.9 and no headache 11.0 ± 8.3 (overall p<0.001). Temporal and finger PPTs did not statistically differ among the chronic headache, the episodic headache and controls in individuals with and without neck pain. Temporalis and trapezius SR-functions showed that tenderness was increased in individuals with chronic headache to higher degree than in those with episodic headache, and more so in those with neck pain.

Conclusions: Coexistent neck pain is associated with greater pericranial tenderness in individuals with chronic headache and to a lesser degree in those with episodic headache. Sensitization may be a substrate or consequence of neck pain and primary headache, but a longitudinal study would be needed for further clarification.

Keywords: central sensitization; comorbidity; headache; neck pain; pain threshold; peripheral sensitization; population; tenderness.