To update findings of the 2000–2010 Bone and Joint Decade Task Force on Neck Pain and its Associated Disorders and evaluate the effectiveness of non-invasive and non-pharmacological interventions for the management of patients with headaches associated with neck pain (i.e., tension-type, cervicogenic, or whiplash-related headaches).
We searched five databases from 1990 to 2015 for randomized controlled trials (RCTs), cohort studies, and case–control studies comparing non-invasive interventions with other interventions, placebo/sham, or no interventions. Random pairs of independent reviewers critically appraised eligible studies using the Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network criteria to determine scientific admissibility. Studies with a low risk of bias were synthesized following best evidence synthesis principles.
We screened 17,236 citations, 15 studies were relevant, and 10 had a low risk of bias. The evidence suggests that episodic tension-type headaches should be managed with low load endurance craniocervical and cervicoscapular exercises. Patients with chronic tension-type headaches may also benefit from low load endurance craniocervical and cervicoscapular exercises; relaxation training with stress coping therapy; or multimodal care that includes spinal mobilization, craniocervical exercises, and postural correction. For cervicogenic headaches, low load endurance craniocervical and cervicoscapular exercises; or manual therapy (manipulation with or without mobilization) to the cervical and thoracic spine may also be helpful.
The management of headaches associated with neck pain should include exercise. Patients who suffer from chronic tension-type headaches may also benefit from relaxation training with stress coping therapy or multimodal care. Patients with cervicogenic headache may also benefit from a course of manual therapy.
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We would like to acknowledge and thank all of the individuals who have made important contributions to this review: Robert Brison, Poonam Cardoso, J. David Cassidy, Laura Chang, Douglas Gross, Murray Krahn, Michel Lacerte, Gail Lindsay, Patrick Loisel, Mike Paulden, Roger Salhany, John Stapleton, Angela Verven, and Leslie Verville. We would also like to thank Trish Johns-Wilson at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology for her review of the search strategy.
Conflict of interest
Dr. Pierre Côté has received a grant from the Ontario government, Ministry of Finance, funding from the Canada Research Chairs program, personal fees from National Judicial Institute for lecturing, and personal fees from European Spine Society for teaching. Drs. Silvano Mior and Margareta Nordin have received reimbursement for travel expenses to attend meetings for the study. The remaining authors report no declarations of interest.
This work was supported by the Ontario Ministry of Finance and the Financial Services Commission of Ontario [RFP# OSS_00267175]. The funding agency had no involvement in the study design, collection, analysis, interpretation of data, writing of the manuscript or decision to submit the manuscript for publication. The research was undertaken, in part, thanks to funding from the Canada Research Chairs program to Dr. Pierre Côté, Canada Research Chair in Disability Prevention and Rehabilitation at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology.
Systematic Review Registration Number: CRD42013004848, CRD42013004901, CRD42013004687, CRD42013006940.
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Varatharajan, S., Ferguson, B., Chrobak, K. et al. Are non-invasive interventions effective for the management of headaches associated with neck pain? An update of the Bone and Joint Decade Task Force on Neck Pain and Its Associated Disorders by the Ontario Protocol for Traffic Injury Management (OPTIMa) Collaboration. Eur Spine J 25, 1971–1999 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00586-016-4376-9
- Non-invasive interventions
- Tension-type headache
- Cervicogenic headache
- Headache attributed to whiplash injury
- Systematic review