Tension Headache: Causes, Symptoms & How to Treat

Tension Headache: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment, Most people who experience tension headaches have episodic headaches.


Do you want to know what is a tension headachetension headache treatmenttension headache relief pressure pointsbest medicine for tension headachetension headache back of head and neck tension headache? In this article, we’ll examine tension headache symptoms, causes, and treatments. Additionally, it will contrast them with other headache kinds, such migraine and sinus headaches.

The most typical kind of primary headaches are tension headaches or stress headaches. A primary headache is one that does not have a secondary cause. A person could experience pressure or a band around the head-like tightness. The neck may get involved or be the source of the pain. Learn 7 Simple Ways on how to Reduce Stress and Anxiety

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), tension-type headaches affect more than 70% of some populations.

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Tension Headache

Most people who experience tension headaches have episodic headaches. These episodic headaches occur one or two times per month on average. However, tension headaches can also be chronic.

Tension-type headaches may involve:

  • having pain on both sides of the head
  • pain that is dull and feels like a vice or a band around the head
  • pain that affects the neck or back of the head
  • mild to moderate pain
  • a slow onset
  • The pain does not worsen with physical activity.

To help doctors classify tension headaches, the International Headache Society (IHS) classifies them as either episodic or chronic.

There are also subcategories, including:

  • Infrequent episodic tension headache: The IHS notes that a person will experience this type of headache fewer than 1 day a month on average. The headache may last as short as 30 minutes or as long as a week. Nausea and vomiting do not occur.
  • Frequent episodic tension headache: The IHS states that a person will experience no fewer than 10 headaches a month, lasting between 1–14 days per month, for 3 months or more. The headaches can last for 30 minutes to 7 days. A person may also be sensitive to light or sound.
  • Chronic tension-type headache: A person experiences a headache for 15 days or more, lasting for 3 or more months. The pain can last hours or days, or be constant. A person may also experience light sensitivity, sound sensitivity, or mild nausea.

What is a Tension Headache?

tension headache is the most common type of headache. It can cause mild, moderate, or intense pain behind your eyes and in your head and neck. A tension headache can feel like a tight band around your forehead.

The WHO notes that tension headaches are the most common primary headache disorder, affecting more than 70% of people. For 1–3% of adults, these headaches can be chronic, which means they occur more than 15 days per month.

Tension headaches often begin during adolescence and affect females more than males. People often describe tension headaches as a pressing or tightening pain of mild to moderate intensity that affects both sides of the head. The headaches tend to develop slowly and increase in intensity. Sometimes a person will have a sensitivity to light or sound. People can occasionally feel nausea with a chronic tension-type headache.

The pain from tension headaches causes discomfort, but it is not usually severely disabling, as migraine headaches can be. And the pain does not worsen with physical activity, such as walking or climbing stairs, but physical or mental stress can make it more severe. See Lavender Oil Benefits (Body, Mind and Soul)

Tension Headache Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of a tension-type headache include: Dull, aching head pain. Sensation of tightness or pressure across the forehead or on the sides and back of the head. Tenderness in the scalp, neck and shoulder muscles.

  • dull head pain
  • pressure around your forehead
  • tenderness around your forehead and scalp

Usually, the pain will be low to moderate, but it can occasionally be quite severe. When suffering from severe pain, you could mistake a tension headache for a migraine. One or both sides of your head may experience pounding pain from this sort of headache.

However, tension headaches don’t have all the symptoms of migraine attacks, such as nausea and vomiting. In rare cases, your tension headache can lead you to be sensitive to light and loud noises, similar to migraine attacks.

How to Get Rid of a Headache

Tension headache massage

How to relieve a tension headache fast: Start by placing your thumbs on your cheekbones close to your ears, and use your fingertips to gently apply pressure and rub the temples (the soft spot between the corner of your eye and your ear).

Headache remedies

People can usually relieve the pain of a tension headache with over-the-counter pain medications, such as:

  • aspirin
  • ibuprofen
  • acetaminophen

However, the overuse of such pain medications can increase the risk of episodic tension headaches developing into chronic tension headaches. This can happen because rebound headaches may occur after each medication dose wears off.

Home and alternative remedies

Some people find that home remedies may be enough to relieve their headaches.

These include:

  • reducing caffeine intake
  • placing an ice pack on the achy part of the head or neck
  • relaxation techniquesTrusted Source
  • gentle head massage or therapeutic massage
  • yoga

Alternative remedies may include:

  • aromatherapy involving the application and use of essential oils, including use of peppermint oil
  • acupuncture
  • relaxation training
  • stress coping skills
  • nutraceuticals or supplements such as riboflavin (vitamin B2) and magnesium
  • biofeedback

These treatment options are not always helpful for everyone, and it is best to check with a doctor before using nutraceuticals or supplements.

Tension Headache Causes

What causes a tension headache? Primary headaches are not normally due to an underlying medical condition. Headaches are a physiological disorder and are not a psychological condition. Research is ongoing to find the causes of tension-type headaches.

According to the National Health Service (NHS), possible reasons for a tension-type headache may include:

  • stress
  • anxiety
  • lack of exercise
  • eyestrain or squinting
  • tiredness
  • missing meals
  • dehydration
  • regular exposure to loud noise
  • bright sunlight
  • poor posture
  • certain smells, such as perfumed products

Stress, anxiety, and depression may trigger jaw clenching, lack of sleep, or lack of exercise which could worsen the problem. Triggers can differ between individuals. Keeping a headache diary can help people identify and avoid headache triggers and patterns.

Frequent episodic tension-type headaches can coexist with migraine. An additional contributing factor includes the overuse of analgesics, or pain relievers, which can create rebound headaches.

Chronic tension-type headaches can evolve from the episodic headaches. The headache may occur daily or may evolve into a continuous headache. Depression can also be a contributing factor.

Tension Headache Pregnancy

Tension headaches are the most common kind of headache in pregnant women. It can feel like someone is trying to squish your head like a watermelon. If you carry your stress in your shoulders and neck, you may be more susceptible to this kind of headache.

Headache in early pregnancy: As well as hormonal changes, headaches in the early stages of pregnancy can be caused by an increase in the volume of blood your body is producing. Other causes of headaches during pregnancy can include: not getting enough sleep. withdrawal from caffeine (e.g. in coffee, tea or cola drinks).

How to get rid of tension headaches while pregnant: Rest, a neck or scalp massage, hot or cold packs, and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs such as Tylenol, aspirin, or ibuprofen can reduce the pain. However, if you start to have frequent or severe headaches, talk to your doctor to determine the cause.

How to Prevent Tension Headache

Maintaining a health-promoting lifestyle may help prevent tension headaches.

Tension headache prevention include:

  • getting enough sleep
  • avoiding alcohol
  • managing stress
  • reducing caffeine
  • practicing good posture when sitting, standing, and doing other daily activities
  • taking regular breaks when working at a desk
  • stretching regularly and exercising neck and shoulder muscles during office work
  • engaging in exercise, which may also help with sleep patterns
  • having regular eye checks and using the correct glasses
  • drinking enough fluids, and especially water
  • wearing sunglasses on bright days
  • eating regular meals but avoiding food that may trigger a headache
  • reducing the use of perfumed products
  • monitoring for side effects of any medications

Migraine vs. Tension Headache

There are links between migraine and chronic tension-type headaches. A person with migraine may also experience tension-type headaches.

A migraine headache presents with the following symptoms:

  • may reoccur occasionally or frequently
  • occurs on one side
  • can feel like it is pulsating
  • can worsen with normal physical activity
  • makes a person feel nauseous and sensitive to light or sound
  • is moderate to severe in pain

Migraine headaches can also occur alongside an aura, which includes the following symptoms:

  • blind spots
  • flashing and flickering lights
  • zigzag patterns
  • colored lines and spots
  • dizziness
  • muscle weakness

A tension-type headache:

  • can reoccur occasionally, frequently, or daily
  • is felt in both sides of the head
  • a dull ache
  • is not affected by physical activity
  • does not usually involve a person feeling nauseous unless it is a chronic type
  • usually involves mild to moderate pain

Tension Headache vs. Sinus Headache

sinus headache is due to a viral or bacterial sinus infection.

A sinus headache:

  • involves sinus and nasal congestion
  • involves mucus
  • results in pain, usually around the sinus area at the top of the nose and under the eyes
  • can result in watery eyes

Read: 5 Home Remedies for Sinus Infection Treatment

When to See a Doctor

Sometimes a headache can have a serious underlying cause that needs medical treatment.

A person should see a medical professional about their headaches if:

  • the headache becomes so severe it affects everyday activities
  • a change occurs in the severity and frequency of tension headaches
  • someone is over 50 years of age and has no previous history of headaches or has a medical condition that might result in headaches
  • speech difficulty, vision loss or blurred vision, and movement problems accompany headaches
  • a headache develops suddenly and feels like the worst headache they have ever had
  • someone has a new type of headache and a history of cancer
  • a person becomes pregnant, as some medications may not be safe to use during pregnancy
  • medication may be causing side effects
  • a person needs medication to relieve pain more than 3 times a week, or previously effective medication no longer works
  • changes in level of consciousness, personality, thinking, behavior, or slurred speech
  • there is a fever or rash


To diagnose tension headaches, a medical professional will ask questions about the frequency and intensity of the headaches, as well as questions about overall health and other lifestyle factors.

Common questions they may ask include:

  1. When do the headaches occur and how long do they last?
  2. Where is the location of the pain?
  3. What do the headaches feel like?
  4. Is there difficulty sleeping?
  5. Is there a history of stress?
  6. Has there been a head injury?
  7. Are there any changes in personality or behavior?
  8. Does the headache occur with a change of position?

Bottom line

A person living with tension-type headaches can find that they range in:

  • intensity
  • frequency
  • symptoms

Infrequent headaches are not usually debilitating. Each type of headache can lead into a more severe or frequent type of headache. A person with a chronic tension-type headache may also experience migraine. A person can take pain relievers to help reduce tension headaches. If possible, a person should aim to lessen stress and anxiety.

Some self-help methods can reduce the frequency and intensity of headaches, including:

  • using a cold compress
  • reducing alcohol and caffeine intake
  • improving sleep patterns
  • staying hydrated

A person should see a medical professional if headaches become more severe or result in vision disturbances or speech or movement difficulties.


Why am I getting tension headache everyday?

Sometimes tension-type headaches may be a symptom of a primary headache disorder, such as chronic migraine or a new daily persistent headache or of an underlying disorder, such as thyroid disease or an underlying tumor. Anyone over 50 who has recently started experiencing headaches should visit their doctor for a diagnosis.

What causes a tension headache?

Tension headaches occur when neck and scalp muscles become tense or contract. The muscle contractions can be a response to stress, depression, head injury, or anxiety. They may occur at any age, but are most common in adults and older teens. It is slightly more common in women and tends to run in families.

What does a tension headache feel like?

A tension headache can feel like a tight band around your forehead.. 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.

Where is tension headache located?

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. They’re also called stress headaches, and they’re the most common type for adults.

What to take for tension headache?

Simple pain relievers available without a prescription are usually the first line of treatment for reducing headache pain. These include the drugs aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) and naproxen sodium (Aleve). Combination medications.

What is the difference between tension headache and migraine?

tension headache typically feels like a steady ache or discomfort in the head. The pain may be distracting, but not debilitating. On the other hand, a migraine is a severe, throbbing headache.

Generally, the pain of a tension headache is dull and happens on both sides of the head. You may feel tightness or pressure in your head. Migraines, on the other hand, occur on only one side or are worse on one side. They are characterized by a severe throbbing or pulsing pain.

Can a tension headache cause dizziness?

tension headache often develops gradually, increasing worse with time, and producing pain all over the head and perhaps a sense of pressure. Dizziness can also be a side effect of severe tension headaches.

Is headache a symptom of miscarriage?

Is migraine a sign of miscarriage? It’s normal to feel tired and weak with a miscarriage. You may also have a headache. If you experience excessive dizziness or feel like you may faint, tell your doctor or call your local urgent care center. It’s also important to rest and drink plenty of water to manage these symptoms.

Can stress cause pregnancy headaches?

Stress, fatigue, and eyestrain can all contribute to a dull, all-over headache. The normal early pregnancy symptoms of nasal congestion and runny nose may make sinus headaches more frequent.

Is it normal to have headaches everyday during pregnancy?

Yes, it’s very normal to have headaches everyday during your pregnancy. Headaches are very common during pregnancy, particularly in the first trimester. Your hormone levels are skyrocketing and this can lead to daily headaches.

When do pregnancy headaches go away?

As your pregnancy progresses, they often become better. They are not harmful to your baby, but they may cause you discomfort. Pre-eclampsia, which can cause major consequences if it is not monitored and managed, occasionally manifests as a headache. Usually after 20 weeks of pregnancy, pre-eclampsia begins.


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