Magnetic resonance imaging study of the morphometry of cervical extensor muscles in chronic tension-type headache

C. Fernández-De-Las-Peñas*, A. Bueno, J. Ferrando, J. M. Elliott, M. L. Cuadrado, J. A. Pareja

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

82 Scopus citations


This study analyses the differences in the relative cross-sectional area (rCSA) of several cervical extensor muscles, assessed by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), between patients with chronic tension-type headache (CTTH) and healthy controls. MRI of the cervical spine was performed on 15 CTTH females and 15 matched controls. The rCSA values for the rectus capitis posterior minor (RCPmin), rectus capitis posterior major (RCPmaj), semispinalis capitis and splenius capitis muscles were measured from axial T1-weighted images using axial MR slices aligned parallel to the C2/3 intervertebral disc. A headache diary was kept for 4 weeks in order to substantiate the diagnosis and record the pain history. CTTH patients showed reduced rCSA for both RCPmin and RCPmaj muscles (P < 0.01), but not for semispinalis and splenius capitis muscles, compared with controls. Headache intensity, duration or frequency and rCSA in both RCPmin and RCPmaj muscles were negatively correlated (P < 0.05): the greater the headache intensity, duration or frequency, the smaller the rCSA in the RCPmin and RCPmaj muscles. CTTH patients demonstrate muscle atrophy of the rectus capitis posterior muscles. Whether this selective muscle atrophy is a primary or secondary phenomenon remains unclear. In any case, muscle atrophy could possibly account for a reduction of proprioceptive output from these muscles, and thus contribute to the perpetuation of pain.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)355-362
Number of pages8
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2007


  • Cross-sectional area
  • MRI
  • Suboccipital muscles
  • Tension-type headache

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology


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