Tension headache is a spreading, steady head pain that can be mild or severe.
|Tension Headache: Areas of Pain|
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Tension headaches develop when muscles in the neck, face, and scalp contract.
The cause is not known. Genes are thought to play a role.
This problem often starts in people who are 25 years of age and older. It is also more common in women.
Other things that may raise the risk are:
- Mental tension
- Being emotionally upset
Some tension headaches happen often. Others happen only once in a while. They do not often get in the way of daily activities.
Tension headaches are:
- Felt on both sides of the head
- Have a pressing or tightening feeling
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. A neurological exam may also be done. This is often enough to make the diagnosis.
The goal is to manage symptoms and lower the risk of future headaches. Choices are:
The doctor may advise:
- Over-the-counter pain medicine, such as ibuprofen
- Prescription pain relievers
Taking a caffeine supplement with a pain reliever may also help.
Antidepressants may also be given to lower the risk of future headaches.
Other ways to manage headaches are:
- Physical therapy, such as massage, exercise, treatments to improve posture, and hot and cold packs
- Stress management and relaxation methods
- Biofeedback to learn how to control muscle tension
A person who gets tension headaches may be given antidepressants to lower the risk of getting them in the future.
American Headache Society http://www.americanheadachesociety.org
National Headache Foundation http://www.headaches.org
Canadian Headache Society https://headachesociety.ca
Help for Headaches http://www.headache-help.org
Headache Classification Committee of the International Headache Society (IHS). The International Classification of Headache Disorders, 3rd edition. Cephalalgia. 2018 Jan;38(1):1-211.
Headache information page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/All-Disorders/Headache-Information-Page. Updated December 31, 2019. Accessed April 9, 2020.
Tension-type headache. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/tension-type-headache . Updated February 8, 2017. Accessed April 9, 2020.
Tension-type headache. National Headache Foundation website. Available at: https://headaches.org/2007/10/25/tension-type-headache. Accessed April 9, 2020.
- Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board Rimas Lukas, MD
- Review Date: 02/2020
- Update Date: 04/09/2020