What Causes Tension Headaches?

What Causes Tension Headaches?

In Hearing Health by Specialty Physician AssociatesLeave a Comment

Most people are familiar with experiencing headaches. But did you know that there are different types of headaches? This includes sinus, cluster, migraine, and tension headaches which are associated with concentrated pain or discomfort in different affected areas. 

The most common type is tension headaches which are often described as a squeezing sensation around the forehead. Tension headaches can occur infrequently to chronically and can impact daily health and wellness. Fortunately, there are useful ways to treat and manage tension headaches and alleviate its impact. 

Causes & Symptoms

Tension headaches are produced by muscle contractions in the head and neck area. These muscle contractions can be caused by a wide range of factors including the following: 

  • Stress
  • Anxiety, depression 
  • Physical injuries
  • High intake of caffeine, alcohol, smoking
  • Colds, flu, sinus infections
  • Strained eyes (commonly caused by looking at digital screens for too long)
  • Lack of sleep 
  • Sitting in the same position for a long period of time
  • Cold climates and temperatures 
  • Sleeping in an uncomfortable position 
  • Dehydration, not enough food intake 
  • Grinding teeth, clenching jaw

Tension headaches are typically mild to moderate and feel like:

  • Pain in and around the head area
  • Forehead pressure
  • Sensitivity around the forehead and/or scalp 

This type of headache is not as intense as migraines. Tension headaches generally don’t include throbbing like pain or nausea the way that other types of headaches do. But they can still be impactful and unpleasant; making it difficult to concentrate and complete daily tasks. 

Treating Tension Headaches

There are different ways tension headaches are treated and managed. Strategies include changing behavior and nonprescription medications that alleviate symptoms. 

  • Behavioral Changes: this points to changing or incorporating new practices into daily living that can prevent tension headaches from occurring. This includes: reducing or eliminating consumption of potential triggers – alcohol, caffeine, nicotine etc.; staying hydrated throughout the day by increasing water intake, eating consistent meals, looking at digital screens less or taking breaks, changing positions throughout the day etc. These behavioral changes can reduce stress, provide the body with more energy, and alleviate tension headaches. 
  • OTC Medications:  these are common over the counter (OTC) medications which are specifically used to alleviate symptoms. Common types include ibuprofen or aspirin which ease the pain and discomfort associated with headaches. While these can be helpful, it is important to not overly rely on them. Overusing these medications can actually trigger more headaches and symptoms that are more resistant to the medication. 
  • Prescription Medications: if self-managed behavioral strategies and over the counter medications are not helpful, your healthcare provider could prescribe other types of medications. This could include opiates, naproxen, indomethacin, or muscle relaxers to alleviate pain and prevent the muscles from contracting. 
  • Therapies: your healthcare provider could also recommend therapies or other interventions that are grounded in identifying and managing stress effectively. Different therapies include:  
  • stress management classes: these are structured classes that are designed to help people manage and process stress in ways that are healthier. 
  • cognitive behavioral therapy: involves consistently talking with a licensed mental health professional to work through sources of stress. 
  • acupuncture: a form of alternative medicine that consists of inserting small needles in the skin at specific pressure points to release tension. 

These strategies can provide sustainable relief from tension headaches and even prevent them from occurring. 

Tips to Alleviate Tension Headaches

In addition to these methods, there are additional tips you can use as preventative care including: 

  • Practice ways to relax the muscles: take a warm shower, bath, massage etc. 
  • Place a heating pad or ice pack on the head for 5-10 minutes. You can do this a few times a day. 
  • Pay attention to when you experience headaches and see if there are any patterns you can identify that reveal causes or triggers.  
  • Practice de-stressing activities like yoga, meditation, daily walks etc. 
  • take breaks from all screens (computer, phone, television) to prevent straining the eyes. Avoid screens at least 30 minutes prior to sleeping.
  • Establish and practice a daily sleep routine: going to sleep at the same time every night, practice winding down activities, adjust lighting etc. 

If you experience tension headaches, we’re here to help! Contact us today to schedule an appointment.

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