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It’s been a rough week at work. You had a big assignment due on Thursday and were worried you didn’t have enough time to get everything done to meet the deadline. After two nights of working extra hours you finally got everything done and turned in.

Now it’s Friday and you’re looking forward to a relaxing evening with friends after a hard week. But now, out of nowhere, you’ve got a horrible headache. It feels like a vice is being squeezed around your head.

If you experience a headache after a period of stress, you may have a tension headache. A tension headache often begins later in the day and comes on slowly. The pain starts at the back of your head and then eventually becomes a feeling of dull or squeezing pain around your entire head, usually impacting both sides equally.

Because tension headaches are often triggered by stress, you may also feel tightness or soreness in your neck, shoulders, and jaw as well.

Other causes of tension headaches include not getting enough sleep, poor posture, hunger, jaw or dental problems, straining your eyes, and dehydration. You may also get a tension headache if you are sick with a cold, the flu or a sinus infection.

Is it a Tension Headache or Migraine?

While both a tension headache and a migraine may start off feeling the same, a tension headache is often not debilitating and you’re likely able to manage the pain and discomfort and continue on with your daily activities. Some differences between a tension headache and a migraine include:

  • The pain associated with a migraine often feels throbbing, while tension headache pain feels more like a steady ache.
  • A tension headache usually affects both sides of the head, while migraines are often limited to one side of the head only.
  • Unlike a migraine, a tension headache does not include blurred vision, severe sensitivity to light, blurred vision, or nausea.

Episodic vs. Chronic Tension Headaches:

Tension headaches may last for just 30 minutes, or they may last a few days. You may also have chronic or episodic tension headaches:

  • An episodic tension headache is one that happens every once in a while, or less than 15 days per month.
  • A chronic tension headache happens more frequently, usually more than 15 days per month.

When you have chronic tension headaches, you may notice that the pain comes and goes over an extended period of time. Sometimes the pain will feel much stronger than other times, but you will always notice that some pain is there.

How Do You Treat Tension Headaches?

While many people initially treat their tension headaches with over-the-counter painkillers such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen, it’s important to remember that while these medications may help ease some of the symptoms of your headache, they do not address the underlying cause. Additionally, over-use of these medications can cause longer term negative impacts, and you should only use these medications after consultation with your doctor.

There are more naturally forms of treatment for tension headaches that do not require taking medication. Because tension headaches are often triggered by stress that also causes the muscles in your neck, back and shoulders to tighten up, treatments to ease muscle tension can help. These treatments include:

  • Physical Therapy
  • Massage therapy
  • Chiropractic Treatments
  • Acupuncture

Physical therapy is one of the common natural forms of treatment for tension headaches. Relaxation, stretching and massage can help reduce the intensity and frequency of pain, along with treatments such as cervical exercises, cranio-cervical techniques, postural exercises, and vertebral mobilization.

You can also try some at-home solutions to reduce your muscle tension, including:

  • Deep breathing
  • Yoga
  • Meditation

How Can You Prevent Tension Headaches?

Limiting your exposure to stress or taking some immediate steps to reduce your stress as soon as you notice it coming on are some of the best ways to prevent tension headaches. Practicing regular healthy routines can also help you both eliminate stress and reduce your chance of experiencing a tension headache. These include:

  • Getting regular exercise
  • Improving your posture
  • Drinking lots of water
  • Eating healthy foods on a regular schedule
  • Making sure you get enough sleep

Schedule an Appointment Today

Here at South Orange Rehabilitation & Wellness, we take the time to get to know each of our patients and figure out what’s causing them the most problems. From headaches and sciatica pain to full-on injuries, we’re here to care for you and get you back on your feet.

Reach out and schedule an appointment with us today. We can’t wait to meet you.