Open Access Research article

Is performance in goal oriented head movements altered in patients with tension type headache?

Andrée-Anne Marchand1, Vincent Cantin1, Bernadette Murphy2, Paula Stern3 and Martin Descarreaux1*

Author Affiliations

1 Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières, 3351 boul. des Forges, C.P. 500 Trois-Rivières, Québec G9A 5H7, Canada

2 University of Ontario Institute of Technology, 2000 Simcoe St North, Oshawa, Ontario L1H 7 K4, Canada

3 Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College, 6100 Leslie Street, Toronto, Ontario M2H 3 J1, Canada

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BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders 2014, 15:179  doi:10.1186/1471-2474-15-179

Published: 26 May 2014



Head repositioning tasks have been used in different experimental and clinical contexts to quantitatively measure motor control performance. Effects of pain on sensorimotor control have often been described in various musculoskeletal conditions and may provide relevant information with regard to potential mechanisms underlying tension-type headaches. The purpose of the current study was to compare the performance of patients with tension-type headache and healthy participants in a cervical aiming task using the Fitts’ task paradigm.


Patients with tension-type headache and healthy controls were compared in a cervical aiming task. Participants were asked to move their head as quickly, and precisely as possible to a target under various experimental conditions. Dependent variables included movement time, variable error, constant error and absolute error.


As predicted by Fitts’ law, decreasing target size and increasing head rotation amplitudes yielded longer movement times in both groups. Participants with tension-type headache, when compared to healthy participants showed a significant increase in both constant and absolute errors for each of the four conditions.


Decreased motor performance was observed in participants with tension-type headache, likely due to altered motor control of the neck musculature. Future research is warranted to investigate the clinical aspect related to decrease in motor performance.

Tension type headaches; Motor control; Cervical spine; Kinesthetic sense