Tension Headache: What Causes It?

By Dr. Pallavi Sharma

Table of Contents


A tension headache is a common type of headache that is caused by stress, anxiety, or poor relaxation techniques.

It is characterized by a band-like throbbing pain over the head. It can be difficult to diagnose because tension headaches can look like other types of headaches, but they can be treated with lifestyle changes and prescription medications.

If you are suffering from a tension headache, read on for more information on what causes them and how to treat them.

Tension headache symptoms

A tension headache is the most common type of headache, accounting for more than 80% of all headaches distributed worldwide.

It is a common type of headache that can occur when you’re under a lot of stress. The pain is usually felt in the head, neck, and shoulders, rather than in the temples or eyes. It can start as a dull ache that gradually intensifies as the day goes on, or it can come on suddenly as an intense wave of pain.

Tension headaches are usually the result of a muscle spasm in the neck. The pain can be mild or severe. Other symptoms include:

  • A throbbing pain with the subacute onset and in a band like distribution.
  • Neck and back strain
  • Fatigubility
  • Mild sensitivity to light
  • No nausea or vomiting

Types of Tension Headaches

There are three main categories of tension headaches:

Infrequent episodic

Infrequent episodic headaches are those that occur less than twelve times per year. These headaches tend to be mild and not as severe as chronic tension headaches.

Frequent episodic

Frequent episodic tension headaches occur between one and 14 times per month. These are often milder than regular chronic tension headaches, but they can still be very painful on occasion.


Chronic tension headaches occur at least 15 times per month and last for hours at a time.

Underlying Causes of Tension Headache

What are the causes of a tension headache? Tension headaches are caused by a number of factors.

Tension headaches are a common condition that affects about one in five people. They can be triggered by many different things, but no one knows exactly what causes them.

They tend to affect people who sit at their desks for long periods of time, especially those who have poor posture or are involved in stressful jobs that require them to sit for long periods of time.

Common triggers

Stress can be caused by work-related stress.


Fatigue can cause headaches if you’re not getting enough sleep each night because your body needs that time off to rest its muscles and repair tissue damage caused by prolonged periods of activity (such as sitting at a desk all day).

Poor posture

This is another common cause of tension headaches, which is why it’s important to make sure you’re sitting up straight and paying attention to your posture throughout the day so that you don’t become susceptible to developing one later on down the line!

Eye strain

This has been linked with headaches.

Wrong Habits

Alcohol, smoking, and caffeine-overusing these substances may cause headaches while using and in withdrawal.

Muscular Strain

When neck and back muscles are under strain or spasms, the nerves that supply the neck and back area can refer to muscular pain in the head.

Hormonal changes

These changes might trigger headaches, such as menopause.

Infection-Sinus infection

inflammation too can refer to the head and will appear as a tension headache.

Treatment of Tension Headache

Tension headaches is easy to treat. The first step is to identify the cause of your headache. If you already know what is making you feel tense, then this information will help you to treat your condition more effectively.

Once you know what caused your tension headache, it will be easier to determine the best treatment plan for yourself.

Your doctor may recommend medicine or lifestyle changes that can help reduce the symptoms of a tension headache.

You can also treat your tension headaches with lifestyle changes such as avoiding alcohol and caffeine, wearing protective goggles while playing sports, eating balanced meals, and exercising regularly.

If these methods do not work, then consider seeing a doctor who can prescribe medicine that may help treat your symptoms.

Taking over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen or acetaminophen can relieve these tension headaches. You should not take aspirin or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) if you have an existing heart condition or if you are pregnant.

If nothing else works, then consider seeing an acupuncturist for help in treating your pain. Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese practice in which needles are inserted into specific points along channels called meridians.

Home Remedies

If you’re struggling with a tension headache, there is no need to feel powerless or hopeless. We have gathered a list of at-home and alternative remedies that can help relieve your pain.

Applying a heating pad or an ice pack to their painful areas will reduce the aches.

You can also take a hot bath or shower to relax tense muscles. Stretching exercises too can relieve headache pain.

  • Avoid looking at screens which can aggravate the attacks.
  • Deep breathing and meditation are relaxation techniques that will help you to reduce stress.
  • Drink plenty of water and get adequate sleep.

Mental health and tension headaches

If you’re experiencing tension headaches, it’s important to take steps to manage your stress and anxiety.

The most common cause of tension headaches is stress. If you have a high level of stress in your life, it can lead to frequent headaches.

One way to reduce your stress is to take some time for yourself. Try relaxing with a massage or spending time with friends or family members. You can also use biofeedback and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to help manage your stress levels.

Another way to reduce the number of tension headaches you experience is by making sure that

If you get enough sleep each night, Make sure you are getting enough sleep each night so that when you wake up, your brain has had enough time to reset itself and reprioritize its functions so that it can focus on those things that matter most during the day: dealing with work, caring for others, etc.


Tension headaches are not just annoying; they can also be extremely painful. In fact, a recent study found that tension headaches are more painful than migraines!

There are many things you can do to prevent tension headaches from occurring. Some of the most important lifestyle modifications you can try include:

  • Learn to manage stress effectively through therapy, stress-reduction classes, yoga, or meditation.
  • Improve your posture by bringing ypur shoulders back when standing and Keep your hrsd straight without bending especially when sitting.
  • Eating regular, well-balanced meals will help keep your blood sugar levels even throughout the day so that you don’t have highs and lows that trigger tension headaches.
  • Drinking plenty of water will help flush out constricted blood vessels in the brain, which can increase localized pressure on nerves and muscles that cause nerve pain.
  • Getting a good night’s sleep is another great way to avoid tension headaches! Studies show that lack of sleep causes increased blood pressure and changes in brain chemistry that may cause headache pain.
  • Massage therapy can help stimulate circulation and relieve muscle tension in key areas for relief from tension headaches.
  • Limit consumption of caffeine
  •  Keep a headache diary to observe your own headache pattern.
  •  Smell therapy : Some studies say that smelling lavender and peppermint may reduce headaches.
  •  Exercises: Aerobic and regular postural exercises may help to reduce headaches.

When to See the Doctor

Tension headaches are common and usually harmless. They can, however, be a sign of a serious condition that should be evaluated by a doctor right away.

However, they can be painful and are considered a nuisance—not a serious health issue. Tension Headaches are most often caused by stress or tension, so if you’re feeling stressed because of your job or other life circumstances, it’s possible that your headaches are just an annoyance.

But if you find yourself reaching for pain relievers more than twice a week or unable to accomplish your daily tasks due to headaches, it may be time for you to see a doctor.

The doctor will order a brain imaging  CT or a MRI to determine the cause of your pain. If the patient is complainning following, need to visit the doctor.

  •  A severe headache
  • A recent head injury within 24 hours
  • Not responding to pain killers
  • High Grade Fever
  • Nausea and Vomiting
  • Vision anomalies
  • Slurring of speech
  • Paralysis of the arms or legs
  • Confusion and reduced consciousness
  • Neck stiffness
  • Seizures

TeleHealthDoc articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

Dr. Pallavi Sharma

Dr. Pallavi Sharma is one of Melbourne’s best, well respected cosmetic doctors and aims to provide longstanding anti-aging benefits for her clients. With over 11 years experience in Performing cosmetic procedures, Dr. Sharma has lectured medical professionals regarding cosmetic treatments and is heavily involved in providing up to date cosmetic treatments to her clients and friends.
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