Tension Headaches

Like many people, you may have been unlucky enough to experience a tension headache, from time to time. Luckily, relief for tension headaches is available.

Learn more about tension headache causes and symptoms, as well as some tips to help relieve headache pain, with our guide below.

Tension Headache Symptoms And Treatment

Most people get tension headaches from time to time, so you're not alone. While uncomfortable and annoying, they are generally not severe enough to stop you carrying out everyday activities.

Tension headache causes

The exact cause of tension headaches is not fully understood, but some known triggers of tension headaches include:i, iii

  • stress and anxiety
  • squinting or prolonged reading
  • poor posture
  • tiredness
  • dehydration
  • missing meals
  • lack of physical activity
  • bright lights or sunlight
  • loud noise
  • certain smells

Tension headache symptoms

Tension headaches are the most common type of headache.i Symptoms may vary depending on the cause and severity of your headache, but they can include:

  • Dull, aching head pain, often starting at the temples or base of the head
  • A feeling like a band stretched tightly across your head
  • Equal pain on both sides of your head
  • Stiffness or pain in the shoulders or neck muscles

Tension headache pain generally ranges from mild to moderate, and can last anywhere between half an hour and a number of head-pounding days.

How to relieve tension headaches

Even the most mild tension headache can be frustrating, so it’s good to know that when it comes to tension headache treatment, there are a number of simple things you can try to help give you relief from headache pain:iii, iv

  • Try to Relax. Relaxation techniques are a great way to reduce stress and anxiety that may be causing your headache. This can be done by simply taking some time out for yourself, or trying more active techniques such as gentle exercise, deep breathing or meditation. Find out more about relaxation techniques below.
  • Get a Massage. A neck and shoulder massage to help loosen the tightness in your upper back muscles. You could also try applying a heat pad or cold compress to these areas.
  • Take a Deep Breath. Deep breathing is a simple relaxation technique that may be effective for relieving stress, which may help to reduce the frequency and severity of headaches.
  • Pain relief medication. If you’re suffering with a tension headache, an over-the-counter pain reliever, like Panadol Extra, can help to provide you with effective temporary relief from your headache pain, so you can get back to your day. Paracetamol and ibuprofen are the most common forms of these medications. Always read the label on your medication before use. 

If your headache symptoms persist or you get frequent headaches, it’s a good idea to consult your doctor. They can recommend the best headache treatment for you.

How to help prevent tension headaches

  • Get enough sleep. Fatigue is a known trigger of tension headaches, so getting adequate rest may help.i, iii
  • Try some mindfulness meditation. Meditation can be useful for reducing feelings of stress and anxiety. Start with a simple mindfulness technique, such as sitting on your own in a quiet space and focusing on your breath, even if just for a few minutes.v Or, try using a mindfulness meditation app, like Smiling Mind, for a quick guided meditation. 
  • Maintain a good posture. If you spend a large part of the day sitting at a desk, help make sure your posture isn’t going to result in a headache caused by muscle tension. Sit up straight with your shoulders back and relaxed, and your feet hip distance apart. Ensure your legs are straight and your knees are relaxed, too.vi
  • Keep active. Exercise isn’t just good for your body, it can also support for your mental health. Regular exercise can help to reduce stress and improve your sleep, both of which can be trigger issues for tension headaches.i It’s recommended that you do 30 minutes of moderate to intensive exercise per day (or most days of the week). If you need to, separate your 30 minutes into 2 or 3 separate 10- or 15-minute blocks. 

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i. Tension headaches. NHS. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/tension-headaches/. Accessed 20/08/20.

ii. Tension headaches. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/tension-headache/in-depth/headaches/art-20046707. Accessed 20/08/20.

iii. Tension-type headache. Migraine & Headache Australia. https://headacheaustralia.org.au/headachetypes/tension-type-headache/. Accessed 20/08/20.

iv. Tension headache. Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School. https://www.health.harvard.edu/a_to_z/tension-headache-a-to-z. Accessed 20/08/20.

v.  Benefits of mindfulness. HelpGuide.Org / Harvard Health. https://www.helpguide.org/harvard/benefits-of-mindfulness.htm. Accessed 20/08/20.

vi. Common posture mistakes and fixes. NHS. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/common-posture-mistakes-and-fixes/. Accessed 20/08/20.

vii. Exercise and mental health. Health Direct. https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/exercise-and-mental-health. Accessed 20/08/20.