Send to

Choose Destination
Encephale. 2003 Sep-Oct;29(5):377-90.

[Appraisal of treatment of the trigger points associated with relaxation to treat chronic headache in the adult. Relationship with anxiety and stress adaptation strategies].

[Article in French]

Author information

Kinésithérapeute, B-1410 Belgique.

Erratum in

  • Encephale. 2004 Jan-Feb;30(1):94.


Since the 1950's and even still today, the concomitance between headaches and psychological symptoms (anxiety and depression) is the subject of considerable research. Even so, headaches still pose a problem of difficult diagnosis related to their multiform aspect. Their understanding may be regarded as neurological, psychological or musculo-articular. This complexity explains the lack of effectiveness of anti-migraine treatments in certain cases. This situation encourages recourse to complementary procedures such as those used in physiotherapy. The questions that could be posed regarding physiotherapeutic treatment are: Is the treatment effective? How does it act on the level of pain? and How does it act at the psychological level? It is to answer these questions that the work, which is the basis of this article, has been carried out.


Two groups were studied during this research: a group of 25 patients and a reference group of 100 people. The headache patients were sent for physiotherapy by a GP or consultant neurologist. The pathologies retained for experimentation were: migraines without aura; Arnold's neuralgia; headaches of spinal origin; tension headaches and associated migraines. These pathologies are covered in International Headache Society Classification: Essential headache and in Section 45.4 of DSM IV: Painful problems . The physiotherapeutic treatments applied to the patients were: muscular massage and friction plus ultra-sound vibration of the trigger-points in the spinal, scapular, dorsal and facial regions; articular reharmonisation work on the spinal column; thermotherapy and relaxation as a technique allowing control of physical (muscular) and psychological (anxiety, fear of pain) tension to be regained. The treatment is evaluated by comparison of the periodicity and intensity of the headaches before and after treatment; comparison of anxiety (state and trait) before and after treatment and comparison of coping strategies before and after treatment.


As far as the description of the headaches of the patient group is concerned, the periodicity/intensity evaluated each day of the week before the treatment and presented in graphical form, showed a heterogeneous distribution and did not exhibit any particular characteristics. In addition, the fact of having studied this periodicity/intensity during a period of one week reinforces the reliability of the values found and reinforces the impact, showing clearly that it is not just incidental. The headaches were hereditary in 32-64% of cases; the trigger factors related to stress were the large majority. As far as the treatment used in the population studied is concerned, medication was used punctually, as prescribed. This was in the form of analgesics/antipyretics (68%) or anxiolytics (20%). In 85% of the cases, at the end of the physiotherapy treatment, the person no longer used any medication. The effectiveness of the treatment is clearly illustrated by the fact that the periodicity/intensity of the headaches had diminished significantly after treatment. The physiotherapy treatment lasted for 10 to 20 sessions with an average duration of 14 sessions. The treatment results in a significant reduction in the anxiety trait and the anxiety state as well as a readjustment of the coping strategies. During periods of headache crisis, anxiety and coping strategies are modified significantly. The modifications to these coping strategies during crises are: an increase in auto-accusation, the search for social support, avoidance and strategies for the resolution of emotion prior to treatment; an increase in strategies for the resolution of the problem after treatment; co-ping self-control is diminished if the anxiety state increases and it increases if the anxiety trait increases. Apart from the headache crises, there are no differences in anxiety characteristics or coping strategies between headache sufferers and others except for a greater use of coping avoidance by the headache sufferer.


Treatment by relaxation allows for a perceived increase in control of symptoms by the sufferer. Consequently, it reduces anxiety, improves the quality of life and the behavioural responses to stress. In turn, the treatment improves the long-term prognosis for the headaches as well as the health of the sufferer in general. The treatment described here addresses 3 types of people: 1. Sufferers with difficult headaches which do not respond well to medical treatment. 2. People for whom anxiety and coping strategies are very much modified by the headaches. 3. People who abuse medication for the treatment of their headaches.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Masson (France)
Loading ...
Support Center