Overview Of Identifying and Avoiding Tension Headaches
A tension headache is a pain or discomfort in your head, scalp, or neck. Tension headache is a common type of headache. It can occur at any age, but it is most common in teens and adults. The headaches mainly occur when neck and scalp muscles become tense or contract. The muscle contractions can be a response to stress, depression, a head injury, or anxiety. Identifying the main triggers for your tension headaches will help you avoid them in the future.
When You Have a Tension Headache
Hot or cold showers or baths may relieve a headache for some people. You may also want to rest in a quiet room with a cool cloth on your forehead.
Gently massaging your head and neck muscles may provide relief.
If you have identified your tension headaches are due to stress or anxiety, learning ways to relax will help you avoid them in the future.
Over-the-counter pain medicine, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or acetaminophen, may relieve pain. If you are planning to take part in an activity that you know will trigger a headache, taking pain medicine beforehand may help.
Avoid smoking and drinking alcohol.
Follow your health care provider’s instructions about how to take your medicines. Rebound headaches are headaches that keep coming back. They can occur from the overuse of pain medicine. If you take pain medicine more than 3 days a week on a regular basis, you can develop rebound headaches.
Be aware that aspirin and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) can irritate your stomach. If you take acetaminophen (Tylenol), DO NOT take more than a total of 4,000 mg (4 grams) of regular strength or 3,000 mg (3 grams) of extra strength a day to avoid liver damage.
Identifying and Avoiding Tension Headaches
Knowing your headache triggers can help you avoid situations that cause your headaches. A headache diary can help.
When you get a headache, write down the following:
- Day and time the pain began
- What you ate and drank over the past 24 hours
- How much you slept
- What you were doing and where you were right before the pain started
- How long the headache lasted and what made it stop
- Review your diary with your provider to identify triggers or a pattern to your headaches. This can help you and your provider create a treatment plan. Identifying your triggers can help you avoid tension headaches in the future.
Lifestyle changes that may help include:
- Use a different pillow or change sleeping positions.
- Practice good posture when reading, working, or doing other activities.
- Exercise and stretch your back, neck, and shoulders often when typing, working on computers, or doing other close-up work.
- Get more vigorous exercise. This is an exercise that gets your heart beating fast. (Check with your provider about what kind of exercise is best for you.)
- Have your eyes checked? If you have glasses, use them.
- Learn and practice stress management. Some people have identified relaxation exercises and meditation helpful in avoiding tension headaches.
- If your provider prescribes medicines to prevent headaches or help with stress, follow instructions exactly on how to take them. Tell your provider about any side effects.