Written by Avinash Ramani, M.S. (Biotechnology)  | 
Medically Reviewed by Dr. Nithin Jayan, MBBS, DNB on Dec 13, 2013


Tension headache is a pain in head, scalp, or neck, often accompanied with muscle stiffness in these areas. Tension headache or Stress Headache is the most common type of headache that occurs at any age, often in adults and adolescents. Tension headaches occur when the head, neck and scalp muscles contract or become tense. These muscle contractions can be a reaction to stress, depression, anxiety or a head injury. If the headache occurs for two or more times a week, and persists for several months altogether, then it is called chronic headache. Women are twice more likely to suffer from tension headaches than men.

Tension Headache

Causes of Tension Headache

A variety of foods, activities, and stressors can cause tension headaches, including lack of sleep, sitting before a computer screen for long hours or driving for long periods.

Some of the factors that may prompt a tension headache include-

  • Lack of Sleep
Tension Headache Lack of Sleep
  • Stress and Anxiety
  • Skipping meals
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Smoking
  • Eye strain or Squinting
  • Tiredness and Fatigue
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Muscular tension caused by poor sleep or sitting posture
  • Emotional stress
Tension Headache Cold or Flu
  • Caffeine
  • Certain smells
  • Noise(s)
  • Bright flashy lights

Symptoms of Tension Headache

Symptoms of a tension headache include-

  • Dull, pressure-like head pain
  • Pressure around the forehead and neck
  • Feeling of a tight band or vise-like grip on the head
  • Pain all-over the head.
Tension Headache Pain Over
  • Tenderness in the forehead and scalp
  • Worse pain in the scalp, temples, hind head, back of the neck, and in the area around neck-shoulder joint in the back.

Treatment for Tension Headache

Tension-type headaches are usually relieved by painkillers or recommending changes in lifestyle. Painkillers such as paracetamol (acetaminophen), ibuprofen or aspirin are often used to relieve pain. For chronic headaches, muscle relaxants are prescribed. In a few cases of chronic headache, antidepressants, especially Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) are given.

Tension Headache Painkiller

Relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, massages, exercises or applying a hot flannel on the forehead and neck will also be useful in relieving tension-related headaches.

Tension Headache Yoga

Alternative therapy forms including Stress Management Techniques, Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Biofeedback Techniques and Acupuncture are also recommended for treating chronic tension headache.

Tension Headache Acupuncture

Home Care and Prevention of Tension Headache

Over-the-counter pain medications, such as paracetamol (acetaminophen), ibuprofen or aspirin, could be initially taken to get some temporary relief from tension headache. However any over dose could cause kidney or liver toxicity.

Other ways for lessening a stress headache include-

  • Applying a heating pad or hot pack on the head and neck for 5 to 10 minutes several times a day.
  • Taking a hot bath with lavender oil or hot shower to relax tense muscles.
  • Improving your posture by consciously minding the posture.
  • Taking frequent computer breaks to prevent eye strain.
  • Resting well - Sleeping adequately.
Sleeping Prevent Tension Headache
  • Alter the diet and lifestyle to prevent headache from occurring more often.
  • Practicing relaxation and stress management techniques like Breathing Exercises, Pranayam, Yoga and Meditation.


  1. Tension headache - (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000797.htm)

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