Tension Headaches

Muscles Tighten; Head Aches

Tension Headache
Look familiar? This is a
tension headache.

When the muscle in your head, neck or face contract too tightly you are feeling a tension headache. This form of headache affects almost everyone (70 to 90 percent of all headaches are tension headaches). So where do tension headaches come from and how do you know if you have a tension headache?

Causes of Tension Headaches

A tension headache is a reaction to life's stresses: When your neighbor plays a Metallica in the wee hours of the night or when your boss chews you out, and you suddenly find yourself with a splitting headache, you most likely are suffering from a tension headache. A tension headache can be brought on by any number of stressful or disturbing situations, including:

  • Driving for long stretches of time
  • Stressful or difficult work
  • Intensive study
  • Inadequate lighting
  • Hunching in front of the computer or while on the telephone

Stress is often at the root of tension headaches. Stress leads to the constriction of blood vessels, leaving the muscles with an insufficient supply of blood--forcing them to contract. The result: more tension, more restriction and suddenly: oh, your aching head.

Symptoms of the Tension Headaches

These types of headaches vary in intensity, but they are generally less severe than migraines. They feature a dull pain that most often lasts for four to six hours. Long-term persistent anxiety, stress and depression can cause chronic tension headaches of more severity and longer duration.

For help preventing tension headaches and treating tension headaches, refer back to the earlier sections of the guide.

Now let's move on to another common form of headache, the migraine.

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