What is a tension headache?
A tension headache is the most common type of headache seen in adults. It is so common that we often consider it a normal occurrence. A tension headache is also called a tension-type headache (TTH). Tension headaches are also called stress headaches, because of their common association with emotional stress.
A tension headache is often associated with muscle tightness in the head, scalp, or neck. There are pain and discomfort in these areas. Most people say it feels like a band or clamp squeezing the head.
There are two types of tension headaches:
What does a tension headache feel like?
Most people describe a tension headache as a clamp tightening around their head. The pain is throbbing in nature and builds up slowly, unlike migraine headaches. The main symptoms of tension headache are:
- Pain in the forehead or back of the head.
- Pain in both sides of the head.
- No increase in pain with movement.
- Pain can last from 30 minutes to a few days, but usually no more than a week.
- No nausea or vomiting (unlike migraine headaches).
- Pain may increase with exposure to bright light or loud sounds.
- Pain is described as "fullness, tightness/squeezing, pressure" or "bandlike."
- Stiffness or tightness in the neck, forehead and back of the head.
- Inability to fall asleep.
- Difficulty concentrating.
- No warning symptoms before the headache (aura).
What triggers tension headaches?
The exact cause for tension headaches is unknown, but the triggering factors are:
- Poor posture
- Lack of sleep
- Skipping meals
- Sinus infections
- Caffeine (in excess or withdrawal)
- Flu or cold
- Dental problems
- During PMS (premenstrual syndrome)
- Hormonal imbalance (e.g., low cortisol levels)
- Weak neck muscles
- Low iron levels
- Certain smells
How do you get rid of tension headaches?
To get rid of tension headaches, avoid the trigger factors. This can be difficult if the triggers are not identified or they are difficult to avoid. The following remedies can treat or prevent tension headaches:
- Hot or cold packs
- Posture improvement
- Stress-reducing activities, like yoga and meditation
- Balanced and regular meals
- Regular exercise
- Pain killers
- Adequate sleep
- Stretching workouts
- Staying hydrated
- Timely breaks from intense tasks
- Avoid smoking and alcohol consumption
- Massage therapy
- Deep breathing exercises
- Biofeedback therapy
Are tension headaches dangerous?
Tension headaches are often neglected as benign, everyday occurrences. However, ignoring a long, lingering tension headache, or suppressing it frequently with over-the-counter (OTC) medicines, carries risks.
Some of the potential complications are: