A tension headache produces dull aching pain in the head, neck or behind the eyes. You may feel pressure or tightness across your forehead, the sides of your head or the back of your head. Your scalp, shoulder muscles and neck muscles can become tender. There are two types of tension headaches – episodic and chronic tension headaches.
Episodic Tension Headaches
This type of headache can last anywhere from 30 minutes to a week. In order to be classified as an episodic tension headache, no more than 15 headaches per month should be experienced.
Chronic Tension Headaches
These headaches differ from episodic tension headaches. Chronic tension headaches typically last for hours and can be continuous. In order to be classified as suffering from chronic tension headaches, you must have more than 15 headaches a month for more than three months.
Many people confuse tension headaches as migraine headaches; however, a tension headache does not cause visual disturbances or nausea and vomiting. Physical activity does not make the pain worse with a tension headache. Most tension headache sufferers do not experience light or sound sensitivities.
Although the exact cause of a tension headache may be unknown, there are several factors that can lead to a tension headache. These factors include:
Relaxation and Stress Relief
Stress is one of the leading causes of headaches. Lie down in a quiet room and try to relax the muscles in your neck, back, and shoulders. Many people find that meditation and deep breathing exercises will help to banish stress and tension, thus effectively relieving a tension headache. To help you relax, take several deep breaths and exhale slowly. As you exhale, envision that the muscles in your neck, back and shoulders unwind and relax. Stretch your muscles in your neck by dropping your chin towards your chest and rotate your chin from one side to the other.
Chiropractic Spinal Manipulation
According to the American Chiropractic Association, research has shown that chiropractic spinal manipulation is an effective therapy for tension headaches. Spinal manipulation helps improve spinal functions and alleviate stress. In addition to spinal manipulation, chiropractic care often includes nutritional advice such as taking a B complex vitamin and making diet changes, exercise recommendations to prevent tension headaches, advice on maintaining proper posture, and relaxation techniques to help prevent muscle tension.
Heat and Cold Therapy
Heat and cold therapy can help relieve a tension headache. Apply a warm compress or a cold pack to the area where you are hurting, such as your forehead, neck or temples. If heat seems to relieve your headache, a hot steamy shower can provide almost instant relief.
Massage is a great way to release clenched muscles. An effective massage for tension headaches should include massaging the shoulder muscles, neck muscles and scalp. You can also do a targeted massage by gently rubbing the location of your pain with your fingertips.
Acupressure or Acupuncture
Acupressure may help relieve tension headaches. Place your thumbs in the depressions on each side of your neck. Press in and upwards with your thumbs until you experience slight pain. Continue to press and move your thumbs in small circles for a couple of minutes.
Acupuncture uses fine needles to stimulate the release of endorphins. The needles are placed along the neck, shoulder and forehead to flood the area with blood and endorphins to help minimize and relieve tension headaches. The NIH reports that acupuncture offers an effective non-pharmacological tool in relieving tension headaches.
Tension headaches are often caused by stiff muscles in the neck, back and shoulder area. Gentle stretches can help relieve your tension headache. Try these exercises to improve your flexibility. Neck, shoulder and back stretches can help greatly.
Use proper posture when you are working. This includes using a telephone headset to prevent you from cradling the phone between your shoulder and ear, properly positioning your computer monitor so that it is two feet away from you and the top of the screen is at or slightly below your eye level.
Stretching the muscles in your neck, shoulder and upper back, massage, acupuncture and chiropractic care are effective ways to relieve your tension headache.
If you are looking for ways to prevent tension headaches and relieve the pain associated with tension headaches, setup a consultation with our functional chiropractor. Ask about our Free 15 minute initial consultations.
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