How to Manage and Treat Tension Headaches

“I have a headache,” is such a common complaint that many people (including physicians) don’t take it as seriously as they should. There are more than one way to treat tension (also referred to as stress or normal ) headaches. In fact, popping a couple of over the counter painkillers every time you experience a headache may actually be adding to the problem rather then helping it.

It’s been estimated that approximately 95% of people suffer from an occasional headache. Research has found there are a lot of contributing factors to increasing your chances to be on the receiving end on these types of headaches even though the exact relationship to these “triggers” that we know can cause them and the precise way they actually cause the pain is still not known.

Psychological triggers are depression, anxiety, tension, stress, emotional upset, and hormonal changes (for example: pms). Physiological triggers can be poor posture, certain muscular disorders, injuries to soft tissue or spinal column, jobs that require you sitting or standing in the same position for long periods of time, and overwork.

Tension headaches are usually affects both sides of the head that can be either concentrated at the front, base of the head, or temples. It can be a dull ache, pressure, or feel like a band of pain. It can sometimes be accompanied by nausea/vomiting. The pain can be from mild requiring no intervention to severe enough to interfere with your normal activities. However, if you have severe pain that restricts normal daily activities you should see a doctor to make sure that you have a tension headache and not a more serious type of headache. Headache pain doesn’t originate in your brain since brain tissue is insensitive to pain. It is caused by the muscles, tendons, and ligaments that surround the neck, shoulders, and head.

Occasional or episodic headaches can last anywhere from 30 minutes to a week. Taking regular or increasing amounts of painkillers for headaches can actually make headaches worse by causing rebound headaches caused by the bodies increasing dependency on the drug itself (especially those with caffeine additives or prescription painkillers). There are many ways of dealing with tension headaches without resorting to taking painkillers such as changing positions frequently, taking breaks from stressful situations (whether it means a quick walk or scheduling a vacation), heat or ice packs, hot shower, keeping good posture, stretching exercises, exercise to strengthen the back and neck, regular exercise of all types, seeing a chiropractor, aromatherapy, stress management education, acupressure, acupuncture, getting enough sleep, and decreasing caffeine intake. As I said there are a lot of things that you can do to reduce or stop tension headaches.

Now that you know some ways of treating and or stopping your tension headaches you also need to know when you need to be seen by a physician.

1) The headaches increase in frequency or become prolonged.
2) You get a headache that isn’t you’re “normal” headache. For example you have a severe headache that comes on suddenly.
3) A headache that follows a blow to the head or a fall
4) The headache is suddenly followed by a stiff neck, or you notice weakness, numbness, or any paralysis
5) A headache that is accompanied by nausea, vomiting, fever, drowsiness, and confusion.
6) Your headache pain worsens when you stand or walk
7) Tension headaches can be accompanied by eye strain but you begin having blurred, doubled, tunnel vision, or any unusual vision changes.

If you have any of the changes mentioned above or you think that your headache is unusual you need to be seen by a physician right away. If your headaches become weekly, daily, instead of once in awhile; you need to speak to your physician to make a good preventative and abortive (to get rid of the headache once you have it) treatment plan. There is no reason not to take an active role in treating and preventing your headaches. Just because tension headaches are common it doesn’t mean they have to interfere with you lifestyle.

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