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.
Suboccipital Release With Tennis Balls
- Tape two tennis balls together or place them in a sock and tie a knot at the end.
- Lay on your back on a firm surface. Place tennis balls at the bottom of your skull as indicated by picture.
- Slowly roll your head side to side to find tight knots. When you feel a muscle knot hold that position for 10-15 seconds until you feel the knot loosen.
- You can work on the muscles for up to 5 minutes, which will help release muscle tension in your suboccipital muscles to reduce headaches.
Why Do You Get Tension Headaches
Tension headaches are classed as primary, which means that there isnt always a reason for them, and they are not caused by a medical issue or illness. Many people experience tension headaches, without knowing what exactly caused the headache to start.
There are certain circumstances that can trigger a headache however these may differ from person to person. You may already know what triggers your headaches, especially if they follow a pattern or you have them regularly.
Tension headache triggers include:
- Straining your eyes by squinting
- Looking at computer screens for too long
- Incorrect posture, can cause tension to build in your muscles
- Not being physically active
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Why Do I Get Tension Headaches Every Day
Lifestyle factors can play a part in how often we experience headaches as certain aspects of our lives can trigger tension headaches. For example your headaches may occur when youre dehydrated, hungry or tired. Finding out what exactly is triggering is your tension headaches, and taking action to avoid these will help you to manage your headaches and hopefully reduce them.
Medicine To Prevent Recurring Tension Headaches
If you get tension headaches on 15 days or more a month , your doctor may prescribe medication to prevent current headaches:
- NSAIDs daily use of NSAIDs such as naproxen can be tried. This practice can increase the risk of medicine overuse headache but it can be helpful in breaking the cycle of recurring headaches. If the 3-week NSAID course does not break the cycle of symptoms it should not be repeated.
- Tricyclic antidepressants such as amitriptyline or nortriptyline can also be tried. They are usually taken 12 hours before bedtime. Your doctor will start you on a low dose, and increase the dose slowly if necessary. If your symptoms have improved for 36 months, then the TCA will be stopped slowly.
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How To Get Rid Of A Tension Headache
Most of us have experienced a headache that seems like it will last forever. One that makes your head pound and puts you in a generally bad mood. While there are a lot of different kinds of headaches, most of us have experienced what is known as a tension headache. This type of headache is the most common and over half of all adults experienced one this last year. They affect as many as 80% of U.S. adults at some point in their lives, according to WebMD. Read on if you suffer from these headaches and are wondering how to get rid of a tension headache.
What Matters Most To You
Your personal feelings are just as important as the medical facts. Think about what matters most to you in this decision, and show how you feel about the following statements.
Reasons to take prescription medicine for tension headaches
Reasons not to take prescription medicine for tension headaches
I’m willing to take medicine every day, because I think it will help ease my tension headaches.
I want to take medicine only when I have a headache.
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Why Might Your Doctor Recommend Prescription Medicine To Help Prevent Your Tension Headaches
Your doctor may advise you to take prescription medicine if:
- You have tension headaches on 15 or more days a month.
- You use over-the-counter medicines to stop a headache more than 3 times a week.
- Your tension headache lasts 7 days or more.
- You have tried over-the-counter medicines, but they don’t help.
How Do You Get Rid Of A Tension Headache
Tension headaches do not usually require medical treatment, and you do not need to see your doctor if you only get occasional headaches. However you should visit your GP if you experience headaches several times a week and your pain is so severe that you cannot carry out daily tasks. Theyll be able to offer advice as well as investigate what is causing your headaches.
You can also use over the counter pain relief to ease the pain caused by tension headaches these treatments include paracetamol or ibuprofen.
Remember to always read the label and follow the enclosed patient leaflet, this will inform you about dosages and guidelines you should follow. It is not recommended that you take stronger pain medication such as co-codamol, unless a doctor has told you too, as it can cause drowsiness or in some cases headaches.
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Q: Can Tension Headaches Be Prevented
A: Yes! Because of their strong link to stress, take thesesteps to prevent or minimize the severity of tension headaches:
- Drink water: Dehydration can increase headache severity, so drink eight glasses of water each day.
- Exercise: Physical activity produces brain chemicals that are natural painkillers. Exercise also leads to improved sleep.
- Gentle stretches: Yoga and tai chi both blend relaxation, breathing and stretching to reduce stress levels.
- Good sleep hygiene: Improve your sleep by minimizing daytime naps, avoiding caffeine or alcohol close to bedtime, getting exercise and avoiding electronic devices before bed.
- Massage: Whether you prefer a light touch or deep-tissue work, massage helps relieve built-up muscle tension in the shoulders, neck and scalp.
- Mindfulness: Using your breath as a guide to keep your thoughts in the present can help reduce overall stress and pain.
Natural Tension Headache Remedies
The following headache remedies can help provide all-natural relief.
- Tea for headaches: Green tea is possibly the best tea for headaches and helps in the overall relief of tension headaches and migraines. Chamomile tea can help with some migraine symptoms due to its tension-relieving and sedative properties. You can also try peppermint tea if your headache is paired with nausea or Sichuan lovage for overall headache prevention.
- Caffeine: When you have a headache, your blood vessels enlarge, which causes the pain to intensify. Caffeine has vasoconstrictive properties which help to shrink enlarged blood vessels down to their normal size, restricting blood flow and lessening your headache discomfort. So for some individuals, a cup of coffee or tea can cure a headache while for some, a caffeinated beverage can trigger a headache. If you suffer from regular headaches, keep a log to see if caffeine could be playing a role in causing them. But for others, caffeine can be a fast and affordable treatment.
- Ginger for headaches: Ginger root can help relieve the pain of an intense headache or migraine. To use ginger root, grind up a half teaspoon of ginger and stir it into a glass of water or hot tea.
- Dehydration headache: Tension headaches are often a common side effect of dehydration. If you notice the start of a headache coming on, think back on your recent water intake.
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What Is A ‘stress’ Headache And How Can You Treat It
It’s the most common type of headache you can getbut the term “stress” headache isn’t entirely accurate.
Right now, stress feels like the new normaland more stress in your life can lead to changes in your health.
Headaches in particular are often brought about by increased stress levels, but while “stress headaches” may be a good description of what’s going on in your body, it’s not an entirely accurate diagnosis. Here’s what you need to know about headaches triggered by stress, and how to help relieve the pain.
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 (
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What Is The Risk Of Developing Medication
Medication-overuse headache is caused by taking painkillers too often for tension headaches or migraine attacks. The body responds to this by increasing the number of pain receptors in the head, so that the head becomes excessively sensitive and pain is felt all the time. If you find that you are having headaches on most days then this may be a cause. Speak with a doctor for advice. See the separate leaflet called Medication-overuse Headache .
What Are Tension Headaches
Tension headaches are dull pain, tightness, or pressure around your forehead or the back of your head and neck. Some people say it feels like a clamp squeezing their skull. Theyâre also called stress headaches, and theyâre the most common type for adults.
There are two types:
- Episodic tension headaches happen fewer than 15 days per month.
- Chronic tension headaches happen more than 15 days a month.
These headaches can last 30 minutes to a few days. The episodic kind usually starts slowly, often in the middle of the day.
Chronic ones come and go over a longer period of time. The pain may get stronger or ease up through the day, but itâs almost always there.
Although your head hurts, tension headaches usually don’t keep you from your daily activities, and they donât affect your vision, balance, or strength.
Where does it hurt?
This type of headache can:
- Start at the back of your head and spread forward
- Become a band of dull pressure or squeezing pain around your entire head
- Affect both sides of your head equally
- Make the muscles in your neck, shoulders, and jaw feel tight and sore
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Other Natural Headache Relief
If your own natural headache remedies aren’t effective, consider alternatives, such as:
- Acupuncture: According to traditional Chinese beliefs, acupuncture works by affecting the flow of energy through pathways that run through the body.
- Psychotherapy: This can help you manage the effects that headaches have on your life, as well as the stresses and anxieties that may aggravate your pain.
- Physical therapy: This can provide relief for tension headaches and migraines by relaxing the tense muscles that commonly accompany tension and migraine headaches.
What Can You Expect If You Take Prescription Medicine For Tension Headaches
You’ll need to take medicine every day, even when you don’t have a headache.
If you don’t feel better after a few weeks of taking the medicine, talk to your doctor. You may need to try several different medicines to find one that works for you.
The medicine can cause side effects. Some of these side effects may last for a few weeks or for as long as you take the medicine. You may need to decide which bothers you more, the side effects of the medicine or your headaches.
Common side effects include:
- Low blood pressure when you stand up quickly.
Serious side effects can also happen. When taken during pregnancy, anticonvulsants can cause birth defects.
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Treating The Cause: Diary
It may help to keep a diary if you have frequent headaches. Note when, where, and how bad each headache is, and how long each headache lasts. Also note anything that may have caused it. A pattern may emerge and you may find a trigger to avoid. For example, hunger, eye strain, bad posture, stress, anger, etc.
Some doctors suggest reviewing your diet. The list of foods which can be triggers in some people includes caffeinated drinks, chocolate, cheese and alcohol. Other doctors suggest focusing on a healthy balanced diet, with a good mixture of slow-release energy foods and a low intake of refined sugars.
Risks And Side Effects Associated With Painkillers
Paracetamol is associated with few side effects, but if too much is taken it can cause serious liver damage.
Regular use of NSAIDs, including aspirin, increases your risk of developing a peptic ulcer in the stomach. Aspirin and NSAIDs can also irritate the stomach, causing heartburn, nausea and vomiting. Use of NSAIDs is associated with a small increased risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Allergic reactions are also possible.
Aspirin should not be used in children aged 16 years or younger, except under medical advice.
NSAIDs and aspirin should be avoided by people who have a history of asthma symptoms being triggered by these medicines, those with kidney problems and pregnant or breast feeding women.
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Treatment If Headaches Get Worse
If you continue to have tension headaches while you are getting treatment, you and your doctor may want to try another treatment.
You may have to try different drugs or doses. If you have already tried several medicines, your doctor may order tests to find out if a health problem is causing your headaches.
Are There Any Risks To Taking Medication To Treat Tension Headaches
Over-the-counter pain relievers are generally safe. But overusing pain relievers can cause other problems. Make sure to follow the instructions on the bottle carefully. Always check in with your provider if you feel the need to use pain relievers more than twice a week.
Take these medications only when you need them. Use the smallest dose that relieves your pain.
In general, overusing pain medications may cause:
- Headaches: Taking pain relievers too often can actually cause a headache when you stop taking the medicine. This effect is similar to withdrawal.
- Other side effects: All drugs have side effects. Avoid taking aspirin or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs , such as ibuprofen, too often. Overuse may cause stomach pain, bleeding or ulcers. If you take any medication regularly, discuss the risks and benefits with your doctor.
- Reduced benefits over time: Your body can build up a tolerance any medication. You may notice that a medication youve used regularly doesnt work as well as it once did.
- Dependence: Some medications can become addictive. They may pose more risks than benefits. For that reason, healthcare providers usually recommend against prescribing benzodiazepines and narcotics to treat tension headaches.
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Lifestyle And Home Remedies
Rest, ice packs or a long, hot shower may be all you need to relieve a tension headache. A variety of strategies can help reduce the severity and frequency of chronic tension headaches without using medicine. Try some of the following:
- Manage your stress level. One way to help reduce stress is by planning ahead and organizing your day. Another way is to allow more time to relax. And if you’re caught in a stressful situation, consider stepping back.
- Go hot or cold. Applying heat or ice â whichever you prefer â to sore muscles may ease a tension headache. For heat, use a heating pad set on low, a hot-water bottle, a warm compress or a hot towel. A hot bath or shower also may help. For cold, wrap ice, an ice pack or frozen vegetables in a cloth to protect your skin.
- Perfect your posture. Good posture can help keep your muscles from tensing. When standing, hold your shoulders back and your head level. Pull in your abdomen and buttocks. When sitting, make sure your thighs are parallel to the ground and your head isn’t slumped forward.
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.
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