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Tension Headaches: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

Mar 22, 2022

tension-headaches-causes-symptoms-and-treatmentsHave you ever had a headache after a long, stressful day? Or maybe you have started noticing an increase in headaches after a recent car accident injury. There are over one hundred types of headaches out there, so it can be tough to pinpoint which one kind you are dealing with. Thankfully, a chiropractor can provide you with a diagnosis and treatment for headaches of all types. Tension headaches not only cause head pain but can also lead to other uncomfortable symptoms that may ruin your day. When it comes to tension headache relief, consider chiropractic care for an all-natural approach to relieving your pain and discomfort.

Tension Headache: The Most Common Headache

Tension headaches are actually the most common headache to experience. Millions of people visit their doctor about tension headaches every year. This kind of headache can cause mild, moderate, or severe pain in your head and neck. You may experience a tension headache once in a while, or you might have recurring tension headaches. Episodic tension headaches are common, so you might be dealing with a tension headache if it happens more than once a month. Tension headaches can also become chronic, which means they occur regularly and last at least 15 days out of the month. While anyone can get a tension headache, women are actually twice as likely to get tension headaches as men.

What Can Cause a Tension Headache

Your spine supports your head and connects your brain and central nervous system to the rest of the body. Muscles in your neck and head also help support you and can become strained or injured. When your head and neck muscles contract, this can cause tightening and stiffness. Stress can cause you to tense up your neck and shoulder muscles, which can put a strain on your neck and lead to a tension headache. If you spend long hours staring at a computer or driving a car, your neck muscles may tense up and trigger a tension headache. Tensing up from cold temperatures can also trigger a tension headache.

Poor posture is a common trigger for tension headaches. When your spine is not properly aligned, it puts added stress on certain muscles to help support poor posture. Hunching your neck forward while you look at a screen or sit at a desk all day can strain your neck and upper back muscles. Eye strain can also occur when you work on a computer all day or read in dim lighting. Couple that with emotional stress due to work or life circumstances, and you have several triggers for a tension headache.

Other potential triggers for a tension headache include drinking alcohol or caffeine and not getting enough water to drink. Skipping meals can also trigger a tension headache. You may develop a tension headache along with symptoms of an illness, like a cold, flu, or even a sinus infection. Fatigue or a lack of sleep can also trigger a tension headache because your muscles need enough time to rest, release tension, and recharge. Tension headache causes can differ depending on your life circumstances and specific triggers for your body.

Symptoms of a Tension Headache

The most common description of a tension headache is that you feel like a band is wrapped tightly around your head. Pain from a tension headache tends to occur around the forehead and behind the eyes. In addition to pain, you may also feel intense pressure around your forehead and the back of your head. A tension headache can also lead to tenderness on your forehead and along your scalp. In mild to moderate cases of a tension headache, you may experience dull head pain. With a severe tension headache, the pain can be more intense and may even feel like a throbbing sensation. A tension headache can occur on one or both sides of the head.

Tension Headache vs. Migraine

If you experience severe tension headaches, then you might confuse them with migraines. Migraine headaches can cause similar symptoms, including head pain behind your forehead and along the back of your head. You can also get migraine attacks multiple times in a month, so both types of headaches can be episodic or chronic. Migraines also cause additional symptoms, like nausea and vomiting. Migraines are more well-known for their sensitivity to bright lights and loud noises. While it is not as common, a tension headache can also cause you to experience sensitivity to light and sound. Tension headaches are typically caused by some type of emotional stress and muscle strain, while migraines do not always have a clear trigger or cause. Most tension headaches cause mild to moderate pain, but if you experience intense pain, then you may confuse it with a migraine.

Diagnosing Tension Headaches

Talk to your doctor or chiropractor about the symptoms you are having so they can help determine what type of headache is affecting you. It is helpful to share when you notice the pain and if there are any common triggers, like emotional stress or certain foods and drinks. The type of pain is also important, like whether the head pain is more of a dull ache, throbbing, or sharp and stabbing. Talk about the intensity of your pain, whether it is mild, moderate, or severe, and how it may impact you. When you have one of these headaches, can you keep working? Does the headache keep you from falling asleep? It is also important to note where the pain is located, especially if it is only on one side of your head. Is the pain primarily behind your eyes and along your forehead? Describing your headache pain in detail will help your doctor determine if you are dealing with tension headaches.

How to Relieve a Tension Headache

There are many ways to experience tension headache relief. Medication alone will not be able to resolve your tension headaches. In fact, trying to treat a headache on your own by taking too much pain medication can actually make your headaches worse. Instead, talk to your doctor about what options would work best for you. While there is not a specific tension headache cure, there are many treatment options available to provide you with lasting relief and help you prevent future headaches.

At-Home Tension Headache Relief

Relaxing after a stressful day may be enough to relieve a mild tension headache. Taking a long, hot shower can help relax your muscles and give you a break from the stress of school or your job. Stress is a major factor in tension headaches, so finding out what helps you relieve stress will help in the long run. Managing your stress may include making time for yourself after a long day of work or waking up early to sip your coffee while you plan out your day. When possible, remove yourself from stressful situations that may be causing you physical pain, like tension headaches. Tension headaches are sometimes known as stress headaches, and stress headache relief may only come when you have removed the trigger.

Applying cold and hot compresses can also help to naturally reduce pain and tension. A cold compress or ice pack can help soothe the pain of a tension headache. A heating pad or warm compress may help ease the tension in your neck and shoulders. Applying heat to muscles helps them to relax by reducing stiffness and tension. You can try these remedies at home when you feel a tension headache coming on or need help dealing with the current headache pain you might be experiencing. Gently massaging your temples, the back of your head, and your neck can also help ease tension in tight muscles.

Chiropractic Care for Headaches

Chiropractors can help provide you with lasting relief from tension headaches. Practicing good posture can help prevent your muscles from tensing up in your neck and shoulders. A chiropractor can help by resolving misalignments in your spine and helping support a healthier posture. When you go to a chiropractor for pain with tension headaches, they will perform a physical examination of your spine and look for any misalignments. Even the slightest misalignment of two vertebrae in your neck can contribute to tension headaches and chronic pain. Chiropractors use gentle and safe techniques like spinal adjustments that restore your spine to its proper alignment.

Chiropractic care can also help you improve your posture by strengthening the muscles in your neck and back. Your spine needs strong, supportive muscles and other soft tissues for proper posture. If you find yourself sitting for long periods of time, you may be tempted to hunch your shoulders forward or round your back. These poor postures can actually strain and weaken the muscles that help support a healthy spine. Your chiropractor can help you practice proper posture and strengthen your muscles to help you avoid hunching or slouching. Your chiropractor can also talk you through relaxation techniques that can reduce the risk of stress and buildup of tension in your body.

Stretches & Exercises for Tension Headaches

Whether you see an orthopedic doctor, chiropractor, or physical therapist for pain, they will likely talk to you about the importance of stretches and exercises. Regularly stretching and exercising benefits your overall health, along with the potential for relieving tension headache pain. Stretching your muscles helps keep them loose and flexible, especially if your job requires you to sit or stand in one position for long hours at a time. Even small stretches like rolling your neck in gentle circular motions can help relieve tension throughout your day. Engaging in activities like yoga can also help you stretch out your whole body and improve overall functioning.

Learn about how specific exercises can also provide you with relief from tension headaches. Exercising has immediate benefits, including improving your circulation, lowering your blood pressure, and reducing feelings like anxiety and depression. Exercise can also boost your energy and help you get a good night’s sleep. When stress is causing you to tense up and leads to tension headaches, a short walk around the neighborhood can help relieve your worries. Both aerobic activity and strength training help improve your overall health, with the added benefit of relieving tension headache symptoms too. Gentle modifications to your lifestyle, like focusing on exercises to relieve your tension headache triggers, can help reduce your pain and prevent tension headaches from reoccurring.

Preventing Tension Headaches in the Future

In addition to relieving the pain of tension headaches when they happen, a chiropractor can also help you prevent tension headaches from happening again. Your chiropractor will work with you individually to determine what exactly triggers your tension headaches. Identifying the root cause of your tension headaches will help influence a treatment and prevention plan unique to your needs. Identifying the triggers for your tension headaches can be the first step to preventing these headaches in the future. Then you will be able to avoid certain activities, situations, foods or drinks that may trigger a tension headache. You may find that certain stretches, exercises, or other activities also help reduce your stress and the likelihood of developing a tension headache.

No matter what is causing your pain, our team of doctors at AICA Orthopedics in College Park is here to help. Visit our College Park location near you to learn about all our options for treatment for headaches. From tension headaches to migraines, our team of doctors can help by diagnosing exactly what type of headache you are dealing with and determining the best course of action. Don’t let repetitive or chronic headaches ruin your quality of life. Visit a College Park chiropractor at AICA Orthopedics to learn more about how you can experience lasting relief from tension headaches. We offer state-of-the-art facilities with orthopedic doctors, chiropractors, neurologists, and physical therapists, all in one convenient location so you can get the quality and comprehensive care you need for lasting pain relief. Schedule an appointment at AICA Orthopedics in College Park to get started on tension headache treatment today!


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