Tension Headache

Last Updated: August 16, 2022

Tension headaches are often described as a dull ache, pressure, or tightness on both sides of the head – starting from the forehead and continuing to the base of the skull. They are very common, and approximately 30-70% of people will experience at least one in their lifetimes.

Tension Headache falls under thePaincategory.

What are tension headaches?

Tension headaches or tension-type headaches were formerly called “muscle contraction headaches.” They are often described as dull aches, pressure, or tightness on both sides of the head. They can be further classified into frequent or infrequent episodic or chronic tension type headaches.[1][2]

How are tension headaches diagnosed?

Tension headaches typically do not require an official diagnosis if they are not very severe or frequent and do not occur secondary to another health condition. Tension headaches can be differentiated from other types of headaches because they usually respond to over-the-counter treatments such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen.[3][4]

What are some of the main medical treatments for tension headaches?

Most often, tension headaches are treated with over-the-counter treatments including non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (Advil), diclofenac (Voltaren), and naproxen (Aleve). Other commonly used medications include acetaminophen (Tylenol) and aspirin. Botulinum toxin (botox) injections have been used with limited success. To avoid the development of chronic headache, it is recommended that these treatments are used no more than two times weekly.[3]

Have any supplements been studied for tension headaches?

Whether certain dietary supplements help tension headaches has not been explored at length in clinical research or clinical guidelines. Limited research has been conducted with melatonin, 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP), and riboflavin.[5][6]

How could diet affect tension headaches?

The connection between diet and tension headache has not been explored at length in clinical research or clinical guidelines.[5][6]

Are there any other treatments for tension headaches?

Certain modalities are beneficial for stress reduction and also seem to help reduce tension headaches. Some examples include acupuncture, chiropractics, trigger point therapy, massage, magnet therapy, and others.[3]

What causes tension headaches?

The exact cause of tension headaches is unknown and can differ if the tension headache is infrequent or frequent (chronic). Some research suggests that the pain occurs from muscle tenderness and nerve sensitization on the outside of the head. This can be brought on by stress, poor posture, and possibly weak neck muscles. Increased frequency of tension headache is thought to occur because the nerves around the head become more and more sensitive over time.[3][7] Episodic headaches can be secondary to factors such as poor sleep, muscle tension, eye strain, low blood sugar, and others.[8]

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  1. ^Barry L Hainer, Eric M MathesonApproach to acute headache in adultsAm Fam Physician.(2013 May 15)
  2. ^Tension-Type Headache Awareness Campaign
  3. ^Paul J Millea, Jonathan J BrodieTension-type headacheAm Fam Physician.(2002 Sep 1)
  4. ^Anne WallingFrequent Headaches: Evaluation and ManagementAm Fam Physician.(2020 Apr 1)
  5. ^Paolo Curatolo, Romina MoaveroUse of Nutraceutical Ingredient Combinations in the Management of Tension-Type Headaches with or without Sleep DisordersNutrients.(2021 May 13)
  6. ^Jeremy Y Ng, Christina HannaHeadache and migraine clinical practice guidelines: a systematic review and assessment of complementary and alternative medicine recommendationsBMC Complement Med Ther.(2021 Sep 22)
  7. ^
  8. ^Joseph R Yancey, Richard Sheridan, Kelly G KorenChronic daily headache: diagnosis and managementAm Fam Physician.(2014 Apr 15)
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