Department for Health

Researchers explore the effect of headaches on everyday life

Fri Jan 24 11:14:00 GMT 2014

Scientists from the University's Centre for Pain Research have already studied how adults reacted in laboratory conditions to pain while they were carrying out particular tasks.

The research, which was published in The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology/, showed that the sensation of pain can reduce your memory capacity and make it more difficult for people to turn their attention from one thing to another, or to pay attention to two things at once.

The researchers now want to run further research to explore whether attention is impaired in the same way for people experiencing naturally occurring pain in the course of their every-day lives, for example when they have a tension-type headache.

It is estimated that more than two thirds of the population will suffer from this kind of headache over their lifetime, according to the International Headache Society, and the long term aim of this programme of research is to understand how to help people overcome the interruptive effect that pain has on their attention.

Individuals who experience frequent tension-type headaches (at least one a month) are being asked to volunteer to take part in the research. They will meet a researcher on two occasions, once when they have a headache, and once when they do not. At each meeting, the volunteer will be asked to complete some short computer tasks and questionnaires. People completing the study will be paid £25 to recompense their time.

Professor Chris Eccleston, Director of the Centre for Pain Research, explained the significance of the research: "People's lives are affected on a regular basis by everyday pain complaints such as tension headaches. It has been suggested that up to 78% of the population may experience this type of pain at some point in their life. Our research has shown that, when experiencing pain, a person's ability to perform daily tasks could be significantly affected.

"So we need to better understand how the experience of pain in everyday life, such as having a headache, impairs our ability to function. Ultimately we can then look at identifying ways to reduce the impact of pain on everyday life and help people return to normal.

"The findings of this research will enable us to develop a new pain measure which reflects the effectiveness of pain relief medication. The research will also help gain a better understanding of how we can design treatments to reduce the impact of pain on everyday life, such as therapies aimed at changing the way we think and behave."

Anyone wanting to find out more or to volunteer for the study should ring 01225 384225 or email the team.