Doctors may soon tell patients who complain of tension headaches: “Take two massages and call me in the morning.”
A study suggests tension headaches start with previously undiscovered tissues that link the brain with upper neck muscles.
If that’s right, prescriptions to to relax tense neck muscles could challenge the $2.2 billion headache remedy market.
“This may help get at the problem either with different pharmaceutical treatment or hopefully no pharmaceutical treatment - massage, relaxation therapy, or an ice pack,” said Dr. Walker L. Robinson, a neurosurgeon at the University of Maryland Medical Center and one of three doctors who conducted the study.
Most over-the-counter pain relievers such as aspirin, ibuprofen and acetominophen don’t stop what’s actually causing the pain; they just make it easier to ignore.
In a report delivered to a conference of neurosurgeons in Phoenix this week, the doctors said studies on 25 cadavers suggest that when neck muscles contract, they pull on the newly discovered connective tissue.
That tissue, in turn, pulls on the highly sensitive dura mater, a thin membrane that covers the brain and spinal cord. Strained nerves in the dura mater appear to cause the headache, they said.
In other words, a tight neck yanks on an area of the head full of nerves.
Robinson said that when he has had to sever the tissue during surgery, unexplained tension headaches disappear. But he doesn’t recommend using a scalpel to cure a headache.