Headache in patients with cervical radiculopathy: a prospective study with selective nerve root blocks in 275 patients
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Since many years we routinely use diagnostic selective nerve root blocks (SNRB) at our department when evaluating patients with cervical radiculopathy. Frequently patients who also presented with headache reported that the headache disappeared when the nerve root responsible for the radicular pain was blocked with local anaesthetics. Headache has been described as a companioning symptom related to cervical radiculopathy but has never before been evaluated with SNRB performed in the lower cervical spine. For this reason we added to our routine an evaluation of the response from the SNRB on headache in patients with cervical radiculopathy. The aim was to describe the frequency of headache in patients with cervical radiculopathy and its response to a selective nerve root block of the nerve root/roots responsible for the radiculopathy. Can nerve root compression in the lower cervical spine produce headache? In this consecutive series of 275 patients with cervical radiculopathy, 161 patients reported that they also suffered from daily or recurrent headache located most often unilaterally on the same side as the radiculopathy. All patients underwent a careful clinical examination by a neurosurgeon and a MRI of the cervical spine. The significantly compressed root/roots, according to the MRI, underwent SNRB with a local anaesthetic. The effect of the nerve root block on the radiculopathy and the headache was carefully noted and evaluated by a physiotherapist using visual analogue scales (VAS) before and after the SNRB. All patients with headache had tender points in the neck/shoulder region on the affected side. Patients with headache graded significantly more limitations in daily activities and higher pain intensity in the neck/shoulder/arm than patients without headache. After selective nerve root block, 59% of the patients with headache reported 50% or more reduction of headache and of these 69% reported total relief. A significant correlation was seen between reduced headache intensity and reduced pain in the neck, shoulder and arm. The result indicates that cervical root compression from degenerative disease in the lower cervical spine producing radiculopathy might also induce headache.
KeywordsCervical spine Cervicogenic headache Cervical radiculopathy Selective nerve root block International Headache Society classification
The study was supported by grants from the Region Skane, Medical Faculty, University in Lund, and the Department of Neurosurgery, University Hospital of Lund, Sweden.
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