Tension headaches are mild-to-moderate pain in and around the head. It’s sometimes described as feeling like there is a tight band around the head. Tension headaches are the most common type of headache globally. However, tension headache causes are not well understood.
There are many ways to treat and manage tension headaches.
Tension headaches cause: Signs and symptoms of
- A dull and aching headache
- You might be feeling pressure or tightness across your forehead, sides, and back.
- You should feel tenderness in your scalp, neck, and shoulder muscles.
Tension headaches can be divided into two categories: episodic and chronic.
Headaches of episodic tension
Chronic episodic tension headaches can develop. An episodic tension headache can last anywhere from 30 minutes to a whole week. Frequent episodic tension headaches will not occur more than once a month for at least three months.
Chronic tension headaches
This type of tension headache can last for hours and be ongoing. Chronic headaches occur more than 15 days per month for at least three consecutive months.
Tension headaches vs. Migraines
It can be hard to tell tension headaches from migraines. You may also experience migraines if you suffer from frequent episodic tension headaches.
Tension headaches are not usually associated with nausea, vomiting, or visual disturbances like migraines. Evidence suggests that physical activity does not generally make migraine pain worse. Tension headaches are more likely to make you sensitive to light/sound, but this depends on the person.
When should you see a doctor?
Set up an appointment with your doctor
Consult your doctor if tension headaches are affecting your life or if you have to take medication for your headaches at least twice per week. Your doctor will help you pinpoint the tension headache causes.
If you experience headaches often, it’s worth checking with your doctor to ensure everything is ok. Minor head pain can sometimes signal serious medical problems (e.g., brain tumor or aneurysm).
When should you seek emergency assistance
Serious symptoms should be reported to emergency services IMMEDIATELY.
- Sudden, severe headache
- Headache is caused by a stiff neck, fever, mental confusion, seizures, or double vision.
- A headache following a head injury becomes especially concerning if it worsens.
Tension Headache Causes
Tension headaches causes are still a mystery. Experts believed tension headaches were caused by muscle contractions in the scalp, neck, and face. This could be due to stress, heightened emotions, tension, or stress. Research suggests that muscle contractions are not the cause.
Tension headache sufferers are most likely to feel more sensitive to pain. Tension headaches can cause muscle tenderness and a sensitive pain system.
The most common trigger for tension headache causes is stress.
Tension headaches are a common condition that can significantly impact your job productivity and quality of life, especially if they’re persistent. You may be unable to go to work due to the frequent pain. Your ability to function at work may be impaired if you cannot go to work.
Physical activity and mental relaxation techniques can help you cope with stress.
- Training in Biofeedback. This technique helps you control body reactions that can help reduce pain. Biofeedback sessions are connected to devices that give feedback and monitor body functions like muscle tension, heart rate, and blood pressure. The biofeedback session teaches you how to decrease muscle tension, slow down your heart rate, and improve breathing—minimizing your tension headache causes.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy. “Talk therapy” can help you manage stress and reduce the severity and frequency of your headaches.
- You can also try other relaxation techniques. Relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, deep breathing, and progressive muscle relaxation can help with headaches. Relaxation techniques can be learned in classes, at home, or via tapes or books.
It can be difficult to manage stress and control headaches simultaneously, but combining them into a treatment plan is remarkably effective.
A healthy lifestyle can help to prevent headaches.
- Sleep enough but not too much.
- Do not smoke.
- Regular exercise is essential.
- Regular, balanced meals are recommended.
- Get plenty of water.
- Reduce alcohol, caffeine, and sugar intake
Your doctor might use exams such as physical and neurological ones when they diagnose chronic headaches or recurrent headaches. That will help them determine what’s causing your headaches.
Your description of pain
A description of your headaches can help your doctor learn more about your headaches. These details should be included:
- The characteristics of pain. Is your pain constant and dull? Are you feeling something sharp or something more stabbing?
- The intensity of pain. The best way to judge the severity of a headache is how well you can function during that time. For example, if you’re able to work but find it challenging to complete tasks, your pain level could be mild.
- Pain location. We often associate head pain with a headache. However, some conditions can also manifest as throbbing, severe pressure in the head.
Your doctor may recommend tests for unusual headaches or complex symptoms. Tests can help determine the cause of the headaches, so they are less likely to be cancerous conditions. The following are two common ways to image your brain:
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)An MRI scan combines a magnet field, radio waves, and computer technology to create clear images.
- Computerized tomography A CT scan is a diagnostic imaging procedure that utilizes a series of computer-directed X-rays to give you a complete view of your brain.
Tension headache sufferers may try to self-manage their pain. Overuse headaches can be due to overused over-the-counter pain relief drugs (OTC)
Many medications can be used to relieve the pain of a headache.
- OTC pain relief is often the first line of treatment to reduce headache pain. These include naproxen (Aleve), ibuprofen, Motrin IB (Advil, Motrin IIB) and ibuprofen.Prescription medications include Naprosyn (Naprosyn), Indomethacin(Indocin), and ketorolac [Ketorolac Tromethamine]. These are pain relievers.
- Combination medicine. Combining acetaminophen, aspirin, caffeine, or sedative drugs in one medication is common. Combination pain relievers may be more effective than single-ingredient ones. OTC is available in many combination drugs.
- Triptans and narcotics. Triptans can be used to treat migraines as well as episodic tension headaches. However, opiates or narcotics are not recommended due to their potential dependency and side effects.
If you suffer from frequent or chronic headaches, your doctor may recommend medication to lower the severity and frequency of these attacks.
Some preventive medication options include:
- Tricyclic antidepressants such as amitriptyline or protriptyline are the most common medications to treat tension headaches. These medications can cause constipation, dry mouth, and drowsiness.
- Other antidepressantsEvidence supports the use of antidepressants mirtazapine and venlafaxine, both from Effexor XR.
- Anticonvulsants, and muscle relaxants. Anticonvulsant medications like Topamax (topiramate) may also be used to prevent tension headaches.
It can take weeks for a medication to start working as a preventive measure, so don’t feel discouraged if you don’t see any improvements right away.
Your doctor will closely monitor your medication to make sure it works properly. Heavy use of pain relief for headaches can hinder the effectiveness of the preventive medication.
Lifestyle and home remedies
There are many ways to prevent tension headaches, both the frequency and severity. A hot shower, ice packs, or rest may all be enough to ease tension headaches. Here are some suggestions:
- Reduce stress. Planning is a great way to reduce stress. Relaxation is another way to reduce stress. If you find yourself in stressful situations, take a step back.
- You can choose to go hot or cold. A tension headache can be relieved by using heat or ice to soothe sore muscles. You can heat your muscles with a heating pad, hot water bottle, warm compress, or towel. Hot baths or showers may also be helpful. To protect your skin from cold, wrap an ice pack, an ice pack, or frozen vegetables in a towel.
- Get the perfect posture. Keeping a good posture will prevent your muscles from tensing up. Stand up straight with your shoulders back and head high, your stomach in, and your buttocks tightened. For sitting, have both thighs parallel to the ground.
Cerebral tension headaches are a common global health issue, and research has shown that the following non-traditional treatments may be helpful:
- Acupuncture. Acupuncture is used to offer temporary relief for chronic headache pain. The acupuncture needles are very thin and disposable, which means they cause little to no discomfort or pain. The American Academy of Medical Acupuncture website offers referrals to doctors who use acupuncture within their practices.
- Massage. Massage therapy has been shown to reduce stress and tension. It is most effective when treating conditions in the neck, shoulders, and back- where many people have problems. Massage may also help with Tension headache pain.
- Deep breathing, biofeedback and behavior therapy. Many relaxation techniques can ease tension headaches, including work such as deep breathing or biofeedback.
Coping and Support
It can be hard to live with chronic pain. Chronic pain can cause anxiety and depression and affect your productivity, but there are things you can do to manage it.
Here are some ideas:
- Talk to a counselor/therapist. Talk therapy can help you deal with chronic pain.
- Join a support group. Support groups are a great source of information. Many group members are updated on the most recent treatments. A doctor might be able to suggest a group near you.