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J Bodyw Mov Ther. 2010 Oct;14(4):391-6. doi: 10.1016/j.jbmt.2009.06.008. Epub 2009 Aug 3.

Referred pain areas of active myofascial trigger points in head, neck, and shoulder muscles, in chronic tension type headache.

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Department of Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation of Universidad Rey Juan Carlos, Alcorcón, Madrid, Spain.


Our aim was to analyze the differences in the referred pain patterns and size of the areas of those myofascial trigger points (TrPs) involved in chronic tension type headache (CTTH) including a number of muscles not investigated in previous studies. Thirteen right handed women with CTTH (mean age: 38 ± 6 years) were included. TrPs were bilaterally searched in upper trapezius, sternocleidomastoid, splenius capitis, masseter, levator scapulae, superior oblique (extra-ocular), and suboccipital muscles. TrPs were considered active when both local and referred pain evoked by manual palpation reproduced total or partial pattern similar to a headache attack. The size of the referred pain area of TrPs of each muscle was calculated. The mean number of active TrPs within each CTTH patient was 7 (95% CI 6.2-8.0). A greater number (T = 2.79; p = 0.016) of active TrPs was found at the right side (4.2 ± 1.5) when compared to the left side (2.9 ± 1.0). TrPs in the suboccipital muscles were most prevalent (n = 12; 92%), followed by the superior oblique muscle (n =11/n = 9 right/left side), the upper trapezius muscle (n = 11/n = 6) and the masseter muscle (n = 9/n=7). The ANOVA showed significant differences in the size of the referred pain area between muscles (F = 4.7, p = 0.001), but not between sides (F = 1.1; p = 0.3): as determined by a Bonferroni post hoc analysis the referred pain area elicited by levator scapulae TrPs was significantly greater than the area from the sternocleidomastoid (p = 0.02), masseter (p = 0.003) and superior oblique (p = 0.001) muscles. Multiple active TrPs exist in head, neck and shoulder muscles in women with CTTH. The referred pain areas of TrPs located in neck muscles were larger than the referred pain areas of head muscles. Spatial summation of nociceptive inputs from multiple active TrPs may contribute to clinical manifestations of CTTH.

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