Altered muscle activity during rest and during mental or physical activity is not a trait symptom of migraine - a neck muscle EMG study

Kerstin Luedtke, Jan Mehnert, Arne May*

*Corresponding author for this work


Background: Migraineurs have a high prevalence of neck pain prior to or during headache attacks. Whether neck pain is a symptom of migraine or an indicator for a constant neck muscle dysfunction potentially triggering migraine attacks is a topic of scientific debate. The presence of myofascial trigger points in neck muscles including the trapezius muscle, points towards muscle alterations associated with migraine. We measured electromyography (EMG) of the neck muscles in a large cohort to identify whether neck pain and neckmuscle tension reported by migraine patients can be attributed to increased neck muscle activation during rest, mental stress or physical activity. Methods: Surface EMG responses of the trapezius muscle were recorded during a paradigm including rest periods, mental stress and physical activity of 102 participants (31 chronic migraine, 43 episodic migraine, 28 healthy participants). Results: All groups showed increased trapezius activity during mental stress and physical activity compared to rest. There was no statistically significant difference between migraine patients and healthy controls for any of the 3 conditions except for the initial mental stress situation (F (2,56.022) = 8.302, p = 0.001), where controls increased tension by only 4.75%, episodic migraineurs by 17.39% and chronic migraineurs by 28.61%. Both migraine groups returned to resting EMG levels within the same timeframe as healthy controls. Conclusions: Neck pain associated with migraine can therefore not be attributed to increased trapezius activity during rest, mental stress and physical activity or prolonged muscle activity and should not be seen as a constantly underlying trigger but rather as an accompanying symptom of migraine.

Original languageEnglish
Article number26
JournalJournal of Headache and Pain
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 01.12.2018

Research Areas and Centers

  • Academic Focus: Center for Brain, Behavior and Metabolism (CBBM)


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