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Tension Headaches

Tension Headaches


What you need to know about
Tension Headaches

Tension headaches are characterised by a dull aching, tightness, or pressure in the forehead or back of the head and neck. Some people describe it as though their head is being squeezed by a clamp. They’re also known as stress headaches and are the most prevalent type of headache in people.

There are two kinds of them:

  • Tension headaches that last less than 15 days per month are called episodic tension headaches.
  • Chronic tension headaches occur at least 15 times each month.

These headaches might last anywhere from 30 minutes to many days. The episodic type usually begins slowly, often during the day.

Chronic illnesses are those that last for a long time. The pain may become more intense or less intense over the day, but it is almost always present.

Despite the fact that your head hurts, tension headaches rarely prevent you from going about your regular activities and have little effect on your eyesight, balance, or strength.


This form of headache can cause you to:

  • Begin at the crown of your head and work your way forward.
  • Your entire head becomes a belt of dull pressure or squeezing ache.
  • Both sides of your head should be affected equally.
  • Tighten and hurt the muscles in your neck, shoulders, and jaw.

Symptoms that are common include:

  • Pain or pressure in the front, top, or sides of your head, ranging from mild to moderate.
  • Later in the day, you get a headache.
  • Sleeping problems.
  • Feeling very tired.
  • Irritability.
  • Having difficulty concentrating.
  • Light or noise sensitivity is mild.
  • Muscle pain.

You won’t experience any additional neurological symptoms, such as muscle weakness or blurred vision, as you might with migraine headaches. In addition, tension headaches rarely result in extreme sensitivity to light or sound, stomach pain, nausea, or vomiting.


Your doctor may make a diagnosis solely based on your symptoms. They may ask you questions like:

  • What part of your head hurts?
  • What does the pain feel like?
  • How often do you get headaches?
  • How long do they last?
  • Do your headaches interfere with your everyday activities?
  • Do they keep you up at night?
  • Are you stressed?
  • Have you ever experienced a concussion?
  • Have you observed any shifts in your personality or behaviour?

They can also conduct tests to rule out the presence of other conditions. These are some of them:

  • Blood tests
  • X-rays, CT scans, and MRI exams are used to create images of the inside of your head.


Tension headaches are caused by a variety of factors. They aren’t passed on through the generations. Tight muscles at the back of the neck and scalp might cause them in certain persons.


Tension headaches are most commonly brought on by stress from job, school, family, friends, or other relationships.

A single stressful incident or a buildup of stress frequently triggers episodic ones. Chronic stress can develop from daily tension.

Tension headaches can be triggered by a variety of factors, including:

Tension Headache Risk Factors

Up to 80% of adults in the United Kingdom experience them on a regular basis. About 3% of people suffer from daily stress headaches. Women are twice as likely as males to develop them.

The majority of people who suffer from episodic tension headaches only get them once or twice a month, however, they might happen more frequently.

The chronic form affects many people who have had it for more than 60 to 90 days.

When to See Your Doctor

If you suffer frequent or severe headaches, or if they interfere with your everyday activities, see your doctor.

If you have a severe headache that makes your face droop, causes weakness or numbness, or makes it difficult to talk, see, or think dial 999.


Tension headaches are best treated as soon as they appear when the symptoms are still minor. The goal is to alleviate your discomfort while also preventing future occurrences.


Tension headaches are frequently treated with over-the-counter (OTC) medications. Some of these medicines can be used to prevent headaches in people who have them on a regular basis. However, if you take them frequently, you risk developing a condition known as drug overuse or rebound headache.

The following are examples of over-the-counter treatments:

  • Paracetamol
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen

If over-the-counter pain medicines fail to relieve your pain, your doctor may prescribe a stronger medication, such as:

  • Indomethacin
  • Ketoprofen
  • Ketorolac
  • Naproxen

They might also suggest a muscle relaxant like:

  • Cyclobenzaprine
  • Methocarbamol

Other medications can help you avoid having a tension headache. Even if you aren’t in pain, you take them every day so that you use less medicine over time. Your doctor may advise you to take:

  • Tricyclic antidepressants like amitriptyline and protriptyline
  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) including fluoxetine, paroxetine, or venlafaxine
  • Anti-seizure drugs such as topiramate

Keep in mind that pharmaceuticals do not cure headaches and that pain relievers and other medications may no longer be as effective as they once were. Furthermore, all medications have side effects. If you take one on a regular basis, discuss the benefits and drawbacks with your doctor. You’ll still have to figure out what’s causing your headaches and deal with them.


Certain dietary supplements have been reported to be useful in the treatment of migraine headaches in some trials. They may also assist in the prevention of tension headaches. These supplements include the following:

  • Butterbur
  • Feverfew
  • Magnesium
  • Riboflavin
  • Coenzyme Q10

Before you begin using any supplements, consult your doctor.

Lifestyle changes

  • Reduce your stress levels. Make an effort to plan ahead. Organize yourself and stay organised. Massage or meditation, for example, can both help you relax.
  • Try to keep a steady pace. Take some time to relax. Make time for the things you enjoy. For some people, mindfulness (staying in the present moment rather than following worry or anxiety thoughts) might be beneficial.
  • Create a network of people who will support you. Spend time with the individuals you care about. You could also want to schedule some sessions with a therapist to help you come up with solutions and manage any anxiety or despair you may be experiencing.
  • Exercise on a regular basis. It’s best to exercise for at least 30 minutes five times per week. It relieves tension and keeps you in shape. It also aids in stretching. Take special notice of your jaw, neck, and shoulders. We tend to hold a lot of tension in these places.
  • Make sure you get enough sleep. It’s a lot easier to deal with daily stress when you’re well-rested.
  • Make improvements to your posture. A solid stance might help you avoid tense muscles. Hold your shoulders back and your head level when you stand. Tighten your buttocks and belly button. Make sure your thighs are parallel to the floor and your head and neck aren’t sagging forward when you sit.
  • Eat well-balanced meals on a regular basis. A throbbing headache might result from skipping a meal. Every day, try to eat at the same time. Consume a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
  • Caffeine and alcohol should be avoided. Many over-the-counter headache treatments contain caffeine, which can cause headaches. Reduce your intake of coffee and tea, as well as energy and soft drinks.
  • Limit the number of pain relievers you take. Use the least dose feasible. Take pain relievers no more than once or twice a week.
  • Keep your wits about you. It eases the strain.
  • Keep a headache journal. This will assist you in identifying triggers. It will also assist your doctor in developing a treatment plan. Keep track of the date, time, any warning signs or other symptoms, the location and intensity of the pain, what you were doing, drugs you took, and the food you ate when you get a headache.

Tension Headaches vs. Migraines

How do you tell them apart?

Tension headaches:

  • How do they make you feel? Pain that is constant, mild to moderate, and does not throb. It can get better or worse as the headache progresses.
  • Where is the pain? It can hurt all over your head, but the discomfort will most often be concentrated in a band around your forehead, back of your head, or neck. The headache does not worsen as a result of physical exertion. Tenderness in your jaw, shoulders, neck, and head is possible.
  • Are there any additional signs or symptoms that you’re experiencing? This type of headache lacks nausea, vomiting, light sensitivity, and aura that migraine sufferers experience.
  • Did you have any symptoms prior to the onset of the headache? You could be stressed or tense.
  • Who is going to get them? The majority are adults.
  • How frequently do you get them? It varies.
  • How long do they last? From thirty minutes to seven days


  • How do they make you feel? They appear gradually. The discomfort becomes unbearable. It can range from mild to severe. It may throb or pulse, and it will get worse as you exercise.
  • Where is the pain? It’s usually only one side of your head. Your eye, temple, or back of your head may be affected.
  • Are there any additional signs or symptoms? Before the headache begins, some people have a visual disturbance known as an aura. You may be hypersensitive to light and sound while suffering from a headache. You might feel nauseous and vomit. Some people find it difficult to move or speak.
  • Who can get them? Anyone. Before puberty, boys get them more than girls, but after puberty, women get them more than men.
  • How frequently do you get them? It differs.
  • How long do they last? Between four and seventy-two hours.

Tension Headache Risk Factors

Up to 80% of adults in the United Kingdom experience them on a regular basis. About 3% of people suffer from daily stress headaches. Women are twice as likely as males to develop them.

The majority of people who suffer from episodic tension headaches only get them once or twice a month, however, they might happen more frequently.

The chronic form affects many people who have had it for more than 60 to 90 days.

Tension Headache Prevention

To make your headaches less intense or frequent, try these remedies.

Find techniques to unwind and manage your stress, such as:

  • Biofeedback
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy
  • Acupuncture
  • Massage therapy
  • Physical therapy
  • Deep breathing
  • Meditation
  • Yoga
  • Hypnotherapy