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  • Dr. Eric Carlsen

7 Tips for Easing Your Tension Headache

woman holding face in hands with 2 additional hands holding head to show pain

Combine stress, repetitive activities, and poor posture, and what do you get? Tension headaches. They encircle your head like a too-tight crown. Fortunately, you can do a lot on your own to prevent or relieve tension-type headaches.

A recipe for trouble

Work pressures, relationship stress, and other life challenges can cause tension headaches. When you add repetitive activities and poor posture to the mix, the pain starts in your neck and shoulders, slowly travels up the base of your skull, and then wraps around your head.

The following activities can contribute to tension headaches:

· Constantly looking down at your cell phone

· Working at a computer all-day

· Driving for hours without rest

· Playing video games for hours

· Clenching your jaw at night or during the day

· Sleeping on your stomach

These activities overstretch the muscles on the back of your neck and weaken them, increasing your susceptibility to tension headaches. The second part of the problem is that using any muscle too much leads to pain and, often, spasms.

Episodic vs. chronic

Episodic tension headaches are often tied to stressful events. They typically come on quickly and are fairly painful. These headaches usually resolve once the stressful event is over or when you take over-the-counter medication.

Chronic tension headaches can recur daily. They may come on as you wake up or after a long day of work or activity. The muscles in your neck and scalp tend to stay contracted. Pain and tightness develop on both sides of the head, in the forehead, and at the base of the skull.

7 ways to manage tension headaches

  • Minimize stress. Try to avoid or limit stressful events.

  • Limit the time you spend looking down at your phone. Take breaks on long drives.

  • Adjust the way you sleep. Try sleeping on your back or on your side with a body pillow and your neck in a neutral posture.

  • Exercise and stretch. Use a therapy cane or a hard therapy ball to massage out or stretch your neck and shoulder muscles.

  • Use over-the-counter medicines. Aspirin, ibuprofen, or acetaminophen can be quite effective for episodic tension headaches.

  • Consider drug-free treatment. Try massage therapy, chiropractic treatment, physical therapy, or acupuncture.

  • See a dentist. If you’re clenching your jaw and getting headaches, look for a dentist knowledgeable about temporomandibular joint (TMJ) syndrome.

If tension headaches don’t go away after trying these suggestions, it may be time to look at the psychological stress in your life and develop new ways to cope or alleviate the stressful situations.

Credit: Cleveland Clininc


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