What Causes Chronic Tension Headache
This condition tends to develop in people who start off with having tension headaches with increasing frequency, until they occur on most days. However, the cause of the tension headaches is not always clear, and may be more than one thing. They may be due to tension in the muscles at the back of the head and neck, but it is now clear that this is not always the cause. Other causes reported by patients include stress, tiredness, hunger and eye strain. Many chronic tension headaches develop for no apparent reason. Working long hours bent over a computer may trigger them.
Some people get tension headaches if they drink too much caffeine or alcohol, if they don’t drink enough water or if they go for a long time between meals and become tired and hungry. Occasionally, tension headaches can be caused by poor vision, particularly if reading in low light for long periods. Some may be triggered by environmental discomforts such as heat, cold, brightness or wind.
Some research suggests that your genetic make-up may be a factor. This means that some people may inherit a tendency to be more prone to develop tension headaches than others when stressed or anxious.
Note: medication-overuse headache can be similar to chronic tension headache.
Medication-overuse headache is caused by taking painkillers too often for tension headaches or migraine attacks. See the separate leaflet called Medication-overuse Headache .
How Are Tension Headaches Treated
The goal of treatment is to stop headaches from occurring. Good headache management depends on reducing stress and tension. Some suggestions include:
- Going to sleep and waking at the same time each day
- Exercising regularly each day for at least 30 minutes
- Eating regular meals without skipping any, especially breakfast
- Avoiding headache triggers, such as certain foods and lack of sleep
- Resting in a quiet, dark environment as needed
- Stress management
- Medicine, as recommended by your healthcare provider
How Can You Relieve Tension Headache Pain
Here are some tips to help you manage the cause of your tension headaches:
- Get an eye exam. If youre straining to read, or keep tilting your head up and down to use those off-the-shelf glasses, you may need a new pair of glasses.
- Redesign your workstation. Simply raising your computer monitor or getting a document stand can help reduce repeated head tilting that can strain the occipital muscles.
- Avoid slouching and practice good posture. Consider trying yoga, Pilates or Tai Chi. All of these disciplines are great forms of exercise and all can help to improve posture. Also, you may want to consult a physical therapist, chiropractor, or movement therapist for exercises that are tailored to your need.
- Get a 30-minute massage that concentrates on the neck and upper back. This can help relax your muscles and relieve your headache pain.
- Try applying a hot pack to the base of the head. Do this for 15-20 minute intervals.
- Stuff two tennis balls into a sock and tie it off tightly. Lie on your back on the floor. Place the tennis balls under the base of your skull and allow your head to compress against them. Gently rock your head back and forth and side to side for a few minutes.
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You Arent Experiencing Neurological Symptoms Or Nausea
With a migraine, you will likely experience neurological symptoms and nausea. If you dont have those symptoms, you could have a stress headache instead. You wont have a change in vision, hearing, or sense of smell.
Migraines also cause nausea and vomiting, often as a result of neurological changes. If you dont have nausea, you might have a tension headache rather than a different type.
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When Should I Call The Doctor
Most headaches arent dangerous. Rarely, headache pain can be a sign of a serious medical problem. You should seek immediate medical care if you have:
- Stiff neck.
- Sudden, severe headache that gets worse quickly.
- Fever that doesnt go away.
- Headache after concussion .
- Confused thoughts or slurred speech or weakness.
- New onset headache over the age of 50.
- Sudden change in your headache pattern.
- New onset headache in someone with cancer or autoimmune disease.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Almost everyone experiences tension headaches. But that doesnt mean you need to live with the pain. Over-the-counter pain relievers may be enough to relieve minor symptoms. If you have a headache more days than not, reach out to your provider for guidance. Medication and stress management help many people reduce the impact of tension headaches on their life. Massage, meditation, exercise or talking to someone you trust are just some of your options. The best stress-management therapy is the one that works for your lifestyle and feels right to you.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 02/04/2021.
Living With Headaches: Self
Making changes in your daily routine can help in the management of headaches. Some measures that can be taken include the following:
- Get adequate rest and sleep for 67 hours to avoid sleep deprivation.
- Take a bath with warm water.
- Avoid things that trigger your headache. These may include some drinks, such as red wine, or foods, such as dried fruits with sulfates or certain cheeses.
- Do not stay hungry. Avoid fasting and eat at regular intervals.
- Sleep comfortably. Change your bedding or sleeping position if needed.
- Maintain good posture at all times.
- Do not strain your eyes. Get an eye checkup and wear prescription glasses if required.
- Practice meditation to help reduce the incidence of headaches.
- Exercise regularly. This helps in stress reduction and releases endorphins . Exercising also helps you obtain good-quality sleep.
- Use a mouth guard if you grind your teeth.
- Avoid alcohol consumption.
- Practice biofeedback techniques, such as abdominal breathing.
- Use heat therapy to manage tension headaches. It may also be used for migraine attacks. However, heat may be a headache-trigger for some.
- Practice yoga as it helps in alleviating the symptoms of migraine. A study compared patients with migraine using conventional care versus conventional care plus yoga 5 days a week for 6 weeks. The group that used conventional migraine treatments plus yoga experienced fewer migraine headaches and less severe headaches when they did occur.
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How Can Stress Cause Headaches
Everyday stress can bring on headaches in a variety of ways. Thats because stress causes us to change our behavior without even realizing it.iv
You may still experience the occasional tension headache, but practicing the above techniques should help reduce their frequency and severity. Looking for a quick and effective way to get rid of a stress headache? Try an over-the-counter headache relief medication like Excedrin.You may still experience the occasional tension headache, but practicing the above techniques should help reduce their frequency and severity. Looking for a quick and effective way to get rid of a stress headache? Try an over-the-counter headache relief medication like Excedrin.
And while relaxation therapies and simply cutting down on the stress in your life can help to reduce the occurrence of tension headaches, chronic tension headaches may be indicative of a more serious issue. Consult a doctor to discuss and learn more about your headaches.
Finding Out The Type Of Headache You Have
A doctor can usually diagnose tension headaches by asking you questions about your health and lifestyle and by examining you.
It can be hard to know which type of headache you have, because different types can have the same symptoms. But the treatments may be different, so it’s important to find out which type you have.
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Causes And Risk Factors
You may be wondering what causes headaches. In general, headaches occur due to a combination of nerve signals sent from the blood vessels and muscles in the head. What causes these signals to turn on is still unknown. Headache triggers can include:
- Illnesses such as sinus infections, colds, fever or throat infection.
How Can I Prevent Tension Headaches
Researchers have yet to uncover how to prevent all headaches. If you experience chronic tension-type headaches or frequent tension-type headaches certain medications may stop some headaches before they start. These are antidepressants such as amitriptyline or venlafaxine or duloxetine. These work on the pain centers in the brain.
Overall, lifestyle changes and reducing your response to stress is the best way to prevent tension headaches. The most effective stress management tool is the one that fits into your life and you feel good using. You may want to try:
- Massage therapy.
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Soothe Pain With A Cold Compress
Using a cold compress may help reduce your headache symptoms.
Applying cold or frozen compresses to the neck or head area decreases inflammation, slows nerve conduction and constricts blood vessels, all of which help reduce headache pain .
In one study in 28 women, applying a cold gel pack to the head significantly reduced migraine pain .
To make a cold compress, fill a waterproof bag with ice and wrap it in a soft towel. Apply the compress to the back of the neck, head or temples for headache relief.
Coenzyme Q10 is a substance produced naturally by the body that helps turn food into energy and functions as a powerful antioxidant .
Studies have shown that taking CoQ10 supplements may be an effective and natural way to treat headaches.
For example, one study in 80 people demonstrated that taking 100 mg of CoQ10 supplements per day reduced migraine frequency, severity and length .
Another study including 42 people who experienced frequent migraines found that three 100-mg doses of CoQ10 throughout the day helped decrease migraine frequency and migraine-related symptoms like nausea (
Significance Of The Study
TTH and stress are common problems the students experience. Alternative and complementary medicine, like cryotherapy, is effective for relieving physical and psychological pain. Use of ice compression by placing it at the back of the neck leads to relief tension and anxiety, and gives feeling of relaxation and full of energy for doing daily life activities. The effects occur like antidepressant drugs. It also decreases recurrence feeling of TTH. The significance of using it comes from the fact that this experience needs no money, no effort, little time, and effective safe alternative therapy for mental tension and TTH for academic students and other people who are suffering from mental tension and tension headache. The results from this study will provide the basis for the formulation of future research questions that can explore the effects of cryotherapy for the treatment of many psychological and physical problems, and more specifically, research studies that will consider the role of cryotherapy for the treatment of physical and psychological problems.
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Medicine To Relieve Pain
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories such as naproxen, ibuprofen or aspirin often provide relief for tension-type headaches. Paracetamol is less effective but may be preferred if you cannot take NSAIDs, such as if you have stomach bleeding or kidney problems. Read more about NSAIDs.
Caution medication overuse headache
If you are taking medicines regularly, be aware of medication overuse headache. Medication overuse headache can happen as a result of using too many pain relief medicines to treat headaches. It may feel like a tension-type headache.These headaches often improve within 24 weeks of withdrawal of the overused medicine but you may feel worse before you feel better. To avoid this, take pain relief medicines like paracetamol and NSAIDs for no more than 15 days per month.
How To Get Rid Of A Tension Headache: Prevention And Treatment
The goal in treating tension headaches is to eliminate the symptoms immediately and to prevent headaches from occurring again in the future. Tension headaches are never a fun experience, but luckily, there are some easy lifestyle changes and simple treatments you can use to reduce pain and limit future episodes.
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What Are The Symptoms
Symptoms of tension headaches include a constant headache, usually with pain or pressure on both sides of your head. You may feel tightness around your forehead that feels like a “vise grip.” You may also have aching pain at your temples or the back of your head and neck. The pain usually isn’t severe.
How Can You Treat Stress Headaches
Depending on the severity and length of your stress headache, it can go away on its own by simply taking a break from whatever activity is causing you stress, said Dr. Wexler. Lying down, meditating, doing some light yoga, or other forms of self-care are all great options.
However, if the pain is really bothersome, most stress headaches can be treated with over-the-counter analgesics like ibuprofen or naproxen, said Dr. Bronerbut be wary of the frequency with which you’re taking medications. “If you find that you’re taking more than once a week on a regular basis, that’s a sign that you’re getting increased headache frequency and you should speak to your doctor about what’s causing your headaches,” said Dr. Broner.
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Key Points About Tension Headaches
- Tension headaches are the most common type of headache.
- Tension headaches typically do not cause nausea, vomiting, or sensitivity to light.
- Tension headaches affect both sides of the head, come on slowly, and are described as a tight band or vice around the head.
- Lifestyle changes including regular sleep, exercise, and meal schedules can reduce or prevent headaches.
- Discuss medicines to treat or prevent tension headaches with your healthcare provider.
Check If It’s A Tension Headache
Common symptoms of tension headaches include:
- pain on both sides of your head, face or neck
- feeling like something is pressing on your head or being tightened around it
- the affected area may feel tender and your head may hurt more when touched
You should be able to continue doing daily activities without making the headache worse.
Tension headaches last at least 30 minutes but they can last much longer, sometimes for several days.
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Reducing Stress And Tension
Anything that reduces stress and tension can help relieve and prevent tension headaches.
- Massage can relieve tension in the muscles of the back of the head, neck and shoulders and relieve headache pain for some people.
- Heat can also help treat tension headache â try taking a hot shower or using a heat pack.
- Correcting poor posture can help by relieving muscle tension.
- Biofeedback â the use of electronic devices to teach people how to regulate body functions and responses, such as muscle tension â may help reduce pain.
- Cognitive behavioural therapy , a type of therapy that involves identifying and challenging negative thinking patterns and developing alternative ways of thinking and acting, can help reduce stress. CBT can be used to treat tension headaches that are constant or frequently recurring.
- Relaxation exercises and stress management training can help prevent tension headaches. Practising mindfulness or yoga may also reduce stress and tension.
Physiotherapists can provide massage and heat treatments as well as advice on posture correction. Your physio may also stretch your neck muscles and suggest specific exercises that may help.
Psychologists, therapists and some GPs can offer treatment with cognitive behavioural therapy and relaxation therapy.
How To Get Rid Of A Tension Headache The Basics
According to the International Headache Society, tension headaches are generally a short-lived, infrequent incident. These types of headaches are known as episodic tension headaches and can last from anywhere between 30 minutes and seven days.
For those who develop frequent tension headaches, the episodes may bring more severe pain than those who experience them only occasionally. Some peoplearound 3% of the U.S. populationdevelop chronic tension headaches. The main difference between the two is that chronic headaches are recurring and happen more than 15 days out of a month for three or more months. The pain and severity of this kind of headache also tends to wax and wane rather than being at a constant level.
Both episodic tension headaches and chronic cases occur more frequently in women than in men. Learn more about tension headaches in the video.
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Diy Strength Training Exercises
Experimenting with strength training or changing lifestyle factors that cause stress and tight muscles can help patients limit the amount of medications they need to stop their pain. Strength training can:
- Loosen tense muscles
- Increase muscle strength
- Improve blood flow
Results should take about a month to become apparent. Researchers said patients not experiencing any benefit after four weeks probably arent good candidates for the treatment. To improve core strength yourself, you can try these exercises to prevent future tension headache episodes.
A good overall core building exercise that improves posture is plank pose, which resembles the top of a push-up. Support the body firmly with wrists under the shoulders, fingers spread wide, and weight evenly distributed throughout the hand, careful to avoid dumping weight into the wrists. Toes are tucked under and the body slants down in one straight, long line, with the abdomen and upper back muscles engaged. Hold for 30 seconds before resting for a few seconds. Repeat three times.
Resistance band workouts
Danish researchers have found that strength training with resistance bands is also helpful for reducing tension headaches. Just two minutes a day was found to provide a benefit after about a month of training, reportsScienceNordic. Slightly better results were found for patients exercising with the bands 12 minutes each day.