Tension Headaches: Causes, Symptoms, Types and Treatment

Tension Headaches

What are tension headaches?

Tension headaches consists of dull pain, pressure, or tightness in the forehead, back, or sides of your head. It has been described by some as feeling like a clamp pressing against their skull. The most common type of adult headache is a stress headache.

There are two types:

  • Episodic tension headaches: These headaches occur less frequently than once every 15 days.
  • Chronic tension headaches: They occur more frequently than once per month.

It is possible for these headaches to last from a few minutes to several days. Typically, episodic attacks begin slowly, often during the day.

It takes a long time for chronic illnesses to ebb and flow. There’s almost always some level of pain throughout the day, whether it goes away or gets stronger.

While tension headaches hurt, they are usually not disruptive to your daily activities, and they have no effect on your vision, balance or strength.

Read: Difference Between Sadness and Depression

Difference between a tension-type headache and a migraine

One of the most common headache types is migraine. There are different symptoms associated with migraines and tension headaches.

Migraines can cause:

  • Intense pain
  • Pinching or throbbing pains
  • One-sided head symptoms
  • Loud noises or bright lights worsen your pain
  • Nausea or vomiting

What are the types of tension-type headaches?

There are two main types of tension headaches, according to healthcare providers. Your headache type is determined by how often and how many headaches you have:

  • Episodic tension headaches are less common (less than 15 days per month). Infrequent headaches are ones that occur less than once a month, according to your provider.
  • Chronic tension-type headaches occur when you experience more headaches than headache-free days. If you have chronic tension headaches for more than three months in a row, you will have 15 or more headaches each month.

Causes of tension headaches

Tension headaches are not known to exactly caused by doctors or medical researchers. Sometimes this can be caused by muscles in the head or neck, or by poor posture.

The activation of hyperexcitable peripheral afferent neurons may be responsible for infrequent tension headaches. It is these cells that transmit sensory information between the brain and pain receptors in the body.

An abnormal pain processing mechanism may be involved in headaches, and pain sensitivity may be enhanced in general.

Furthermore, genetic factors are believed to affect your susceptibility to tension headaches.

There are several triggers of tension headaches, including:

  • Stress
  • Alcohol
  • Problems with your teeth (such as grinding your teeth and clenching your jaw)
  • Eyestrain
  • Dry eyes
  • Fatigue
  • Smoking
  • Cold or flu
  • Migraine attacks
  • Sinus infection
  • Caffeine
  • Poor posture
  • Emotional stress
  • Insufficient water intake
  • Lack of sleep
  • Skipping meals

Read: Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria

Symptoms of a tension headache

Common tension headache symptoms include:

  • Dull head pain
  • Pressure around your forehead
  • Forehead and scalp tenderness

Most cases of pain are mild or moderate, but if it is severe, it can be excruciating. If there is extreme pain, you might mistake it for migraine. You suffer from throbbing pain on one or both sides of your head with this type of headache.

The symptoms are somewhat different from those of migraines, like nausea and vomiting. It’s possible that your tension headache will cause you to be extremely sensitive to light and loud noise, similar to migraines.


Healthcare professionals may run tests to exclude other problems, such as a brain tumor in severe cases.

An X-ray test called a CT scan is used to photograph your internal organs to check for other conditions. MRI can also be used by healthcare professionals to examine the tissues of the body.

Read: Self-Stigma

How dangerous is a tension headache?

Experts don’t agree. The most serious health problems are caused by chronic tension headaches, but tension headaches are not common.

Tension-type headaches can sometimes be caused by an underlying illness like thyroid problems or tumors or it can be caused by a headache disorder like chronic migraines or daily persistent headaches. You should see your doctor if you have a new onset headache over 50.

How to treat a tension headache

Home remedies and medications

First of all, drink plenty of water. It may be that you are dehydrated and should drink more water. Moreover, you should take into account how much sleep you get each night.

An inadequate amount of sleep can cause tension headaches, so make sure you are getting enough sleep. Keep a regular schedule of meals, since hunger can cause headaches.

To get rid of a tension headache if none of those methods work, you can take an over-the-counter (OTC) pain reliever such as ibuprofen or aspirin. However, you should use these only occasionally.

It is possible to overuse or experience “rebound” headaches when you take OTC medications too frequently. The pain that occurs when the medication wears off occurs when you become too accustomed to it.

Some OTC medications do not relieve it. If this is the case, you may receive a prescription for the following medication:

  • Tricyclic antidepressants
  • Beta-blockers
  • Divalproex sodium
  • Indomethacin
  • Ketorolac, a pain reliever
  • Naproxen

If pain relievers are not working, a muscle relaxant may be prescribed. Muscle relaxants slow down muscle contractions.

Another option is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), which is commonly prescribed by healthcare professionals. You can reduce stress by taking SSRIs, which can stabilize your brain’s serotonin levels.

Other strategies you might be advised to try include:

  • Stress management classes: Stress management and tension relief are among the skills you can learn in these classes.
  • Biofeedback: Stress and pain can be managed with this technique.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT is talk therapy that helps you recognize situations that cause you to stress, anxiety and tension.
  • Acupuncture: This alternative therapy uses fine needles to target specific parts of the body to reduce stress and tension.

Here are some other ways to ease it:

  • For 5 to 10 minutes several times a day, place a heating pad or an ice pack over your head
  • Take a hot shower or bath to relax your muscles
  • Make your posture better
  • Take frequent breaks from your computer to reduce eye strain

These tips may not completely prevent tension headaches.

Read: What is Self-harm

Preventing future tension headaches

It is important to identify the factors that cause your tension headaches so you can prevent future attacks.

Keep a headache diary to keep track of the factors that trigger tension headaches.

Keep a record of:

  • Daily meals
  • Beverages
  • Activities
  • Any situation that causes stress

Make a note of every time you suffer from it. It may take several weeks or even months before you are able to connect.

Your journal might show that headaches are triggered by a certain food when you had headaches when you ate that food.

Read: Anticipatory Anxiety


Nervous system damage from tension headaches is rare and usually responds well to treatment. Yet, chronic tension headaches can reduce your quality of life in some ways.

For example, it can be difficult to exercise with chronic tension headaches. It may also be impossible for you to go to work or school. Consult your doctor if the symptoms become severe.

Severe symptoms should never be ignored. When you get a headache that begins suddenly or when the headache is accompanied by any of the following symptoms, seek medical attention immediately.

  • Slurred speech
  • Loss of balance
  • High fever
  • Fatigue
  • Numbness
  • Vision changes

Any of these can indicate a serious issue, such as:

  • Stroke
  • Tumor
  • Aneurysm

One thought on “Tension Headaches: Causes, Symptoms, Types and Treatment

Comments are closed.