Tension Headaches

Tension headaches, also known as stress headaches, are the most common type of headache, and can be experienced by both adults and children. While painful migraine headaches often affect a person’s ability to participate in daily tasks, this is not usually true of tension headaches. If tension headaches appear less than 15 days per month, they are referred to as “episodic”, while those that occur more than 15 days per month are called “chronic”.

Characteristics of an episodic tension headache are:

  • Constant mild-to-moderate pain, pressure, or tightness felt around the forehead or back of the head and neck; may feel like a band around the head
  • Lasts anywhere from 30 minutes to several days
  • Gradual onset of pain, typically in the middle or latter part of the day

Characteristics of chronic tension headaches:

  • Throbbing pain felt in the front, top or sides of the head
  • Reoccurring over an extended period of time (as much as 60-90 days)
  • Consistent pain that may vary in intensity through the course of the day

Other symptoms of tension headaches include difficulty sleeping, fatigue, irritability, difficulty concentrating, mild sound or light sensitivity, and muscle aches. Approximately 30-80% of American adults experience episodic tension headaches and only 3% suffer from chronic ones. Tension headaches occur in twice as many women as they do in men; chronic tension headaches are also more common in women. In most cases, however, episodic tension headaches do not occur more than once or twice a month.

Unlike migraine headaches, tension headaches are not an inherited trait. In some cases, they may be a result of tightened muscles in the scalp or back of the neck caused by a number of factors. These include poor posture, anxiety, and overexertion. Poor sleeping and eating habits, as well as eye strain, can also trigger tension headaches. Tension headaches are usually prompted by emotional stress related to school, work, and personal life. For this reason, while a particular stressful situation can trigger an episodic tension headache, daily stress can result in chronic headaches. In addition, more than 300 medical conditions have been associated with headaches, including depression.

Tension headaches are diagnosed through patient history and physical examination. Basic blood work may be done to rule out any underlying conditions. Over-the-counter pain relievers can be very effective at easing the pain of tension headaches; however, care should be taken to avoid their overuse. With more severe pain, a doctor can prescribe a stronger pain reliever or muscle relaxant. Non-medicinal treatments that have been proven effective for some people include heat, ice, acupuncture, and massage therapy. Furthermore, in addition to avoiding personal triggers and using stress management techniques, there are a number of medications that can prevent or lessen the frequency of chronic tension headaches. These medications are taken daily and include anti-depressants as well as blood pressure and anti-seizure medications. Also, regular exercise, sleep, and eating habits have all proven to be helpful in avoiding tension headaches.

We offer biofeedback, massage, chiropractic, acupuncture and auricular acupuncture for those who suffer from tension headaches.






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