Tension Headaches: Everything You Need to Know
You know all too well what it means when that dull pressure in your head begins: you’re getting a tension headache.
Feeling like a tight band is wrapped around your head, a tension headache can last for minutes or even weeks, causing havoc in your day to day routine. Let’s take a look at what causes a tension headache, how to get relief, and the best ways to prevent a tension headache.
What Causes Tension Headaches?
Tension headaches are caused by tense neck and scalp muscles. Why your muscles become tight will vary from person to person, but here is a list of the most common things that can cause tight muscles to develop and trigger a tension headache:
- Lack of sleep
- Lack of exercise
- Straining or overexerting yourself without proper recovery (e.g., overtraining and under-recovery)
- Poor posture or holding the same position for too long (e.g., sitting at a desk)
- Straining your eyes (e.g., working on a laptop, looking at your phone)
- Hormonal changes (e.g., low testosterone, PMS, menopause)
- Depression / Anxiety
Tension Headache Relief
If you find yourself with a tension headache, try the following methods of relief as soon as you can:
Apply Heat: Applying a covered heat pack or washcloth dampened with warm water at the base of your skull can help alleviate the pain as this will relax tense muscles and improve blood flow and oxygen. In addition, heat application may also be applied to the base of the skull to achieve a similar effect.
Rest with Eyes Closed: Lie down and close your eyes. If you can, turn off all of the lights in the room. If you can’t, place a dampened washcloth over your eyes to block out extra light and alleviate pain.
Deep Breathing: As you lie down with your eyes closed, focus on taking deep belly breaths. Use a 1:2 ratio for your breathing. In other words, breath out twice as long as you breath in. Additionally, being mindful to take breaths into your abdomen, aka belly breathing, helps to not only decrease muscle tension but also promote relaxation. Check out our video.
Massage: Give yourself a massage at the base of the skull and stretch your neck muscles; this will loosen up the muscles and alleviate the pressure.
Try Acupressure for Headaches: There are different points for different headache types – choose the one that best works for you. Watch our video or read our blog on how to use acupressure for headaches.
How to Prevent Tension Headaches
Instead of focusing on alleviating a tension headache after you already have one, it’s best to focus on prevention. Here are the most common ways to prevent a tension headache:
Posture: Tight muscles can cause or worsen a tension headache. Poor posture – slouching over or rounding your shoulders – can pull on the muscles in your lower back, shoulders, and neck, causing them to become tight. You can improve your posture by sitting up tall, keeping your shoulders wide, and maintaining a neutral spine position. Also, modifying your work area with a standing desk is a great way to incorporate standing more to decrease your time sitting for long periods throughout the day. Check out our How to Prevent Rounded Shoulders article for information on stretches that improve your posture.
Exercise: Regular exercise has been shown to alleviate the symptoms of a tension headache. When you exercise, your body releases endorphins, a natural pain killer. Exercise can also help to build up your tolerance to stress, helping you to manage your headaches. Check out our recommended walking routine.
Stress Management: When we get stressed our muscles tighten and our breathing becomes shallow and focused in the chest. This can trigger a tension headache or make one you already have much worse. Focus on stress reducing techniques such as mindful breathing: take six deep belly breaths trying to keep the exhale longer than the inhale. Also, give mediation a try for 10 minutes each day, preferably in the morning. Try the free app Insight Timer (https://insighttimer.com/) if you are new to meditation. We love it!
Stretch and Massage: Since many tension headaches are caused by tight muscles, you should stretch each day and complement this with a consistent schedule of massage. Deep tissue massages can help to break up headache-causing knots and tension. Massage also helps to prevent strain-based injury.
When to See a Doctor About Your Headache
If you experience any of the following symptoms with your headache, go to a hospital emergency room immediately:
- Double or blurry vision
- Mental confusion
- Sudden weakness
- Extreme pain (especially if you’re over the age of 50)
Have Chronic Tension Headaches? Chiropractic Can Help
Want to learn more about how chiropractic adjustment and regular massage can help to alleviate and prevent tension headaches? Give us a call today at 773-878-7330 to schedule a consultation and get all of the information you need to take control over your tension headaches.