Tension Headache – Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

The most common type of headache, tension headache ranges from mild, moderate, or intense pain in the head, neck, and behind the eyes. According to an article from Healthline, tension headaches are characterized by episodic headaches which may occur on an average of one or two times a month. Described as a dull band of pain that surrounds head, tension headache reportedly affects 90% of all adults and is more common in women.

Tension HeadacheThe symptoms of a tension headache vary from person to person, but common symptoms include:

  • Dull headache
  • Pressure around the forehead
  • Tenderness around the forehead and scalp
  • Feeling of “pressure” or “tightness” across the forehead or on the sides and back of the head

Usually, pain is moderate or mild, but it can also get intense and lead to sensitivity to light and loud noise, similar to migraines.

The exact cause of this type of headache is unknown, but it is believed to have something to do with muscle tension (caused by stress or heightened emotions) or fluctuations in the levels of certain brain chemicals, such as serotonin and endorphins. Other factors believed to trigger tension headache include:

  • Inadequate sleep
  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety
  • Smoking and alcohol
  • Mental or emotional stress related to work, family life, social interactions, finances and health issues
  • Poor posture
  • Hunger
  • Eye strain and dry eyes
  • A sinus infection, cold or flu

Tension headache can be treated with over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers (acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and aspirin) or other OTC remedies. Reports say that chronic headache sufferers may also benefit from alternative therapies that such as massage therapy, acupuncture, and chiropractic care. Other non-drug treatments for tension headache relief focus on behaviors to reduce the pain and/or frequency of your headaches:

  • Apply ice packs or cold compresses to the head for 5 to 10 minutes several times a day
  • Take a hot shower to relax tense muscles
  • Engage in aerobic exercises, such as walking, bicycling, swimming for at least 20-30 minutes, three times per week
  • Develop consistent sleep habits
  • Quit smoking
  • Prevent eye strain by taking frequent computer breaks.
  • Improve posture
  • Biofeedback training, a technique that teaches you to control certain body responses that help reduce pain
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy could help you learn to manage stress and could reduce the frequency and severity of the headaches.
  • Relaxation techniques, including progressive relaxation where you begin focusing on relaxing your toes and work your way up your to your head
  • Modify diet to eliminate tension headache triggers (includes chocolate, caffeine, alcohol, and preservatives,) and establish regular eating patterns and meal times. Drinking plenty of water is also recommended.

Chronic pain can affect your productivity and quality of life. So it is important to seek medical attention for your tension headache. Your physician will diagnose the type and cause of your headache and prescribe treatment to help you manage it.