Types of Headaches – Tension

In the next few blog posts I’ll be taking a closer look at the topic of headaches. I’ll be looking at the types of headaches, their causes, avoidance, their treatments and when a headache is dangerous and pointing to an underlying cause.
There are 4 main types of headaches: 1. Tension, 2. Migraine, 3. Cluster and 4. Cervicogenic. The first post will focus on tension headaches.

Tension Headaches

Definition: A headache generally caused by emotional stress.
Feels like: Head is in a vise; band of pain around head. Pain is even and on both sides of head. No throbbing, nausea, vomiting, photo- or phonophobia (doesn’t worsen with bright light or loud sounds).


Pain Pattern of a Tension Headache

Causes and Risk Factors:
  • Stress, lack of sleep/rest, insomnia
  • Muscular stress, neck injuries, TMJ syndrome
  • psychiatric factors, depression
Tensions Headaches are usually chronic if life stressors are not changed. They tend to come and go over time.  Usually they are not severe enough to interfere with work or your activities of daily living. However, a tension headache can progress into a migraine, which can definitely interfere with work and daily life.
Tension headaches and muscular strain (especially in the neck and shoulder region) are often closely related. This is because, when we are stressed we tend to tense our muscles. Subconsciously this is part of the fight/flight reaction. Constant tense muscles tend to become very painful over time and can in itself also lead to another typer of heache called a cervicogenic headache.
Tension Headache Treatment
Chiropractors and physiotherapists can treat the associated muscular stress involved. Chiropractic can also help with any underlying neck injuries. The most important part of treatment is stress management and relaxation techniques. Ibuprofen can help with temporary pain relief. Always remember to take pain killers with care as they can cause/worsen stomach ulcers (which are also stress-related), renal insufficiency and carry a high risk of bleeding. Continued long-term use can also affect the nervous system and dependency is a real danger.
Self-care involves decreasing and managing your stress levels, using relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, taking time off or whatever works for you, getting appropriate amounts of sleep, regular exercise, a balanced diet, stretching and self-massage.
Next week we’ll look at what causes and how to treat and avoid the migraine headache.