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Coiled spring illustrating tension headache pain

What is a Tension Headache?

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Tension-type headaches are your common, “everyday” headaches. Nearly everyone will have at least one tension-type headache at some point in their lives and it’s estimated that up to 80 percent of adults experience them on an occasional basis. While there’s no precise diagnosis for a tension-type headache, the sensation — a tight band being painfully stretched across your head — is all too familiar to many. Read on to learn more about the symptoms, possible causes and treatment.

Symptoms of a Tension Headache

Dull, aching head pain, stiff muscles and tightness in the neck, shoulders, scalp and jaws, are the main symptoms of tension headaches. They can cause mild to moderate pain but will not usually render you incapable of normal activity.

Doctors classify tension headaches as episodic or chronic; episodic headaches occur less than 15 times a month, while chronic headaches happen more frequently, and for a longer than three months. Either type can last anywhere from a half hour to a full, head-pounding week.

Causes of a Tension Headache

Tension headaches can be brought on by myriad factors, with stress being the most common. Essentially anything that causes stress — a looming deadline, relationship troubles or money problems, for example — can trigger a tension headache. Anxiety, depression, or even things like poor posture or sleeping in a room that’s too cold, are possible tension-type headache triggers, too. For more details, see “What Causes a Tension Headache”.

Treating a Tension Headache

Getting rid of tension headaches can often mean treating the root cause, which can be as simple as learning how to cope with stress. By the same token, getting adequate sleep and exercise, applying heat or cold, massaging the affected areas of the head and neck, and avoiding eyestrain, can help.

OTC pain relievers such as a combination of acetaminophen, aspirin, and caffeine, can help relieve tension headaches. Talk to your doctor for more information.

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