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Amitriptyline Reduces Myofascial Tenderness In Patients
with Chronic Tension-Type Headache
L. Bendtsen and R. Jensen
Posted: February 2003  
Cephalalgia 2000; 20:603-610

The tricyclic anti-depressant amitriptyline is widely used in the treatment of chronic tension-type headache. The aim of the present study was to investigate whether the analgesic effect is caused by a reduction of muscle pain or by a general reduction of pain sensitivity. Thirty-three non-depressed patients with chronic tension-type headache were treated with amitriptyline 75 mg per day and with the highly selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor citalopram 20 mg per day in a 32-week, double-blind, placebo-controlled, three-way crossover study. At the end of each treatment period, actual headache intensity and pericranial myofascial tenderness were recorded, pressure pain detection and tolerance thresholds were measured in the finger and in the temporal region and the electrical pain threshold was measured at the labial commissure. Amitriptyline reduced tenderness and headache intensity significantly more than placebo. The reduction in tenderness could be ascribed solely to the group of patients who responded to amitriptyline treatment by at least 30% reduction in headache while tenderness was unchanged in non-responders. Amitriptyline did not affect pressure or electrical pain thresholds at any of the examined locations. Citalopram had no significant effect on any of the examined parameters. These findings indicate that amitriptyline elicits its analgesic effect in chronic myofascial pain by reducing the transmission of painful stimuli from myofascial tissues rather than by reducing overall pain sensitivity. We suggest that this effect is caused by a segmental reduction of central sensitization in combination with a peripheral anti-nociceptive action.