Neck muscles play big roles in migraine headaches, study finds

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Primary headaches, including tension-type headaches and migraines, affect millions of people worldwide. While these headaches are common, their precise underlying causes remain somewhat mysterious.

However, a new study presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) sheds light on the role of neck muscles in primary headaches and offers the potential for improved treatments.

The Mystery of Primary Headaches

Primary headaches, such as tension-type headaches and migraines, are widespread, causing varying degrees of discomfort and debilitation.

Tension-type headaches often manifest as a tightening sensation in the head with mild to moderate dull pain on both sides. Migraines, on the other hand, are characterized by severe throbbing pain, usually occurring on one side of the head.

These headaches can also bring accompanying symptoms like nausea, weakness, and light sensitivity. Despite their prevalence and impact on individuals’ lives, the exact origins of these primary headaches have remained elusive.

The Link to Neck Muscles

Neck pain is a frequently reported symptom in individuals with primary headaches, but concrete evidence of the involvement of neck muscles in these headaches has been lacking.

To address this knowledge gap, Dr. Nico Sollmann and his team conducted a study to investigate the role of trapezius muscles in primary headache disorders using quantitative magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

The study involved 50 participants, primarily women aged 20 to 31. Among them, 16 had tension-type headaches, 12 had tension-type headaches along with migraine episodes, and 22 were healthy controls.

The researchers utilized 3D turbo spin-echo MRI to examine the bilateral trapezius muscles, which are often associated with neck pain. They also measured muscle T2 values, a marker for inflammation.

Key Findings

The study yielded several critical findings:

Muscle T2 Values: Participants with tension-type headaches and migraines exhibited the highest muscle T2 values, indicating inflammation in the trapezius muscles.

Association with Headache: Increased muscle T2 values were significantly linked to the number of headache days and the presence of neck pain. This suggests that muscle inflammation is related to the frequency and intensity of headaches.

Neck Muscles’ Role: The study’s results provide objective evidence of neck muscle involvement in primary headaches. These findings can differentiate between healthy individuals and those suffering from such headaches.

Implications for Treatment

The study’s findings have significant implications for the treatment of primary headaches. Recognizing the role of neck muscles opens up new avenues for intervention.

Dr. Sollmann suggests that non-invasive treatments targeting the neck muscles directly could offer effective relief for both neck pain and headaches, potentially surpassing the safety and efficacy of systemic drugs.

Furthermore, muscle T2 mapping could be employed to categorize patients with primary headaches and monitor treatment progress.


This study contributes to our understanding of primary headaches by providing objective evidence of the involvement of neck muscles, specifically the trapezius muscles, in these conditions.

The findings pave the way for more targeted treatments that address both neck pain and headaches, potentially improving the quality of life for individuals affected by primary headaches.

As research progresses, these insights may lead to innovative therapies that offer relief and a better future for headache sufferers.

If you care about pain, please read studies about vitamin K deficiency linked to hip fractures in old people, and these vitamins could help reduce bone fracture risk.

For more information about pain, please see recent studies about what you need to know about headache pain, and results showing scientists make weak recommendation for medical cannabis for chronic pain.

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