Tension Headache: Causes and Treatments

December 20, 2018

We all know how unpleasant a headache can be. This discomfort can prevent us from carrying out day-to-day tasks effectively, making us feel uncomfortable and taking our energy away. We’ve all experienced one before. Although there are many types of headaches, a tension headache is one of the most common ones.

This type of headache appears due to excessive tension in the neck and scalp muscles. It’s estimated that 78% of headaches around the world are caused by an exaggerated contraction of these muscles. Problems such as depression, anxiety, or stress are usually associated with a tension headache. However, they can practically affect any person.

Although it doesn’t usually cause anything more than discomfort, a tension headache can become a relatively serious problem if it lasts for a long time. In this article, we tell you the main causes of this problem and what you can do to fight it.

What exactly is a tension headache?

Most people with tension headaches describe a feeling of a having a rubber band squeezing their head. Likewise, they feel a general pain that although isn’t very intense, can be very unpleasant. Generally, this type of headache doesn’t prevent a person from carrying out their daily tasks. However, it can produce fatigue and discomfort.

Stress is a factor that can cause a tension headache.

Although we don’t know exactly why a tension headache occurs, we do know that there are several factors that can influence it:

  • Prolonged stress, anxiety, or depression episodes.
  • Insomnia and lack of sleep for several days in a row.
  • Eye strain during long periods of time. For example, looking at a screen fixedly or not wearing glasses if you have myopia.
  • Bad posture when sleeping or sitting down.

In general, a tension headache lasts less than 15 days per month. If it lasts longer or is more frequent, it’s likely that you’re facing another type of disorder, such as a chronic headache. While it may be true that stress may also be the cause, doctors usually classify it as a different problem.

How to treat a tension headache

The most important secret to treating a tension headache is discovering exactly why it happened. If you understand why it happened, you’ll know what the most effective way to make it disappear is. To do so, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What changed on the days before your headache started?
  • Are you experiencing a lot of stress lately? If so, has it intensified in recent days?
  • Have you strained your neck muscles or back muscles in any way? This can happen during intense physical exercise.
  • Are you in unnatural postures for a long time?
  • Have you strained your eyes more than you should? For example, by staring at your computer screen or at your cell phone for too long?

Depending on the answers to these questions, you can resort to different strategies to fight a tension headache. For example, if you think the problem has to do with an excess of negative emotions, you could try practicing relaxation techniquesConsequently, you’ll lessen the negative impact of stress on your body.

On the other hand, if you think physical factors such as having a bad posture or overstraining certain muscles are causing your headache, it may be enough to change your habits. For example, you could pay more attention to your posture and movements.

A tension headache can be caused by a lack of sleep.

Do I have to go to the doctor?

In general, a tension headache should not be a cause for concern. However, sometimes it’s necessary to go to a professional in order to check that there aren’t any other problems.  You should go see a doctor if:

  • The headaches become very intense.
  • They appear very suddenly.
  • Other problems arise, such as loss of balance or speech difficulties.
  • You need to take painkillers very frequently (more than three days a week).

In most cases, your tension headache will go away on its own. It may just a warning sign trying to tell you that you should change some lifestyle aspects.