Tension headaches are the most common type of headache, and many people will experience at least one during their lifetime. More irritating than debilitating, they can take chronic or episodic forms. The exact cause of this type of headache is not understood, but there are a variety of techniques that can be used to prevent and treat them. In rare instances, tension headaches may indicate the need for medical attention.
It is believed that tension headaches form because of muscle tension around the head. They are usually termed tension-type headaches, however, because this explanation may not be fully correct. As a general rule, someone suffering from one experiences a sensation of tightness around the head and face, and sometimes pain will migrate to the back of the neck as well. The pain generally takes the form of a dull ache across the head.
When someone experiences frequent tension headaches, they are classified as chronic. Persistent headaches are an indicator that a patient needs to visit a medical professional. He or she may be able to help the patient establish triggers for the headaches, so that they can be avoided. In some cases, medication may be prescribed to prevent their onset or to treat the pain once they appear. Biofeedback therapy is also used to treat this type of headache. In biofeedback therapy, the patient works with a practitioner to listen to his or her body, attempting to correct the imbalance which may be leading to pain.
Episodic tension headaches can be treated with over-the-counter painkillers, such as aspirin. People can also find relief through taking a warm shower, lying down in a cool room, exercising, or participating in another activity that reduces the pain. These activities vary on an individual basis, and it may take some experimentation to find one which works. Some patients also find that consulting with a headache specialist yields useful techniques for dealing with the condition.
In addition to treating the pain of tension headaches when they happen, patients can also make lifestyle changes to reduce their frequency. Eating well and sleeping well appear to help with headaches and a number of other health problems. Exercising on a regular basis and reducing stress and tension in the patient's life may also prevent headaches from developing. Certain foods may increase the likelihood of tension headaches, including caffeine, and an elimination diet may help to find other trigger foods.