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J Neurotrauma. 2015 Jan 1;32(1):28-37. doi: 10.1089/neu.2014.3359.

Deficient pain modulatory systems in patients with mild traumatic brain and chronic post-traumatic headache: implications for its mechanism.

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  • 11 Department of Physical Therapy, Sackler Faculty of Medicine, Tel-Aviv University , Tel-Aviv, Israel .


Although the prevalence rate of chronic post-traumatic headache (CPTHA) after mild traumatic brain injury (TBI) reaches up to 95%, its mechanism is unknown, and little is known about the characteristics of the pain system in this condition. Our aim was to investigate the capabilities of two pain modulatory systems among individuals with CPTHA and study their association with CPTHA, here for the first time. Forty-six subjects participated; 16 with TBI and CPTHA, 12 with TBI without CPTHA, and 18 healthy controls. Testing included the measurement of heat-pain (HPT) and pressure-pain (PPT) thresholds in the forehead and forearm, pain adaptation to tonic noxious heat, and conditioned pain modulation (CPM).The participants completed a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) questionnaire. The two TBI groups did not differ in the TBI and background characteristics. However, TBI patients with CPTHA had significantly higher HPT and lower PPT in the cranium and higher PTSD symptomatology than TBI patients without CPTHA and healthy controls. Adaptation to pain and CPM were diminished in the CPTHA group compared with the two control groups. The intensity of CPTHA correlated negatively with cranial PPT, magnitude of pain adaptation, and CPM. CPTHA intensity correlated positively with PTSD symptomatology. CPTHA appears to be characterized by cranial hyperalgesia and dysfunctional pain modulation capabilities, which are associated with CPTHA magnitude. It is concluded that damage to pain modulatory systems along with chronic cranial sensitization underlies the development of CPTHA. PTSD may reinforce CPTHA and vice versa. Clinical implications are discussed.


brain injury; pain adaptation; pain modulation; post-traumatic headache

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