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The Ultimate Guide to Tension Headaches | 13 Best Relief Tips

Posted by Florida Spine and Injury | Aug 22, 2018 11:13:44 AM

Whether you're out spending time with your family or trying to make the most of your work day, a headache can throw a wrench into your focus. We all know that feeling when you want to enjoy yourself or be productive, but instead, you have to deal with the exhausting and painful symptoms of a headache.

Tension headaches are the most common type of a headache, accounting for nearly 90% of all headaches, but that doesn’t make them any more bearable. It’s one of the most disabling conditions out there, and it’s one that many people feel they just have to “wait out.”

There are several different ways to relieve the pain of these annoyingly common headaches. In this article, you’ll find the best relief techniques for tension headaches so you can get back to your daily life happy, focused, and pain-free.


Article Table of Contents:

What are tension headaches?

Tension Headache

If you’ve ever had a headache that’s caused pain not just in your head, but also in your neck and behind your eyes, that’s what tension headaches feel like.

Tension headaches are not the typical “an everyday headache” – a headache that most people have experienced, even if only occasionally. That being said, while they’re the most common type of headache, the pain can range from mild to severe and can start to interfere with the functioning of your everyday life.

What causes tension headaches?

There are several different factors that can cause tension headaches, which unfortunately makes them a little harder to prevent.

They’re directly caused by muscle contractions in the head and neck, but those contractions can be caused by all manner of things, including different foods, activities, and the most common factors being:

  • Fatigue
  • Stress

What’s the difference between a tension headache and a migraine?

Migraine | Chronic and Episodic

While tension headaches are caused by muscular contractions, migraines are a result of blood vessels enlarging, and the chemicals from around those blood vessels being released.

A mild migraine can have similar pain symptoms to a tension headache, however, migraines tend to be significantly more severe.

Due to the inflammation, migraines can be quite excruciating, and there are sometimes other accompanying symptoms, like seeing flashing lights.

How long do tension headaches usually last?

There are two types of tension headaches:

  1. Episodic
  2. Chronic

Episodic headaches are the type that most of us experience every now and then, and these episodic headaches will usually only last between 30 minutes and an hour.

Chronic tension headaches last a lot longer though, lasting for at least 15 days of each month, for at least three months. 

You can try different relief techniques for tension headaches, though, which should ease the pain, and in some cases completely get rid of your headache.

Chornic tension headaches can be quite debilitating due to their high frequency of occurrences. Living with Chronic Headaches is no easy task and can be quite exhausting and stressful. Click here to read a Personal Essay published on Harvard's website about living with Chronic Headaches.

The 13 best relief techniques for tension headaches

Severe Head Pain

There are several different relief techniques you can try for tension headaches, and you may find that some work better than others. Whether you try all or some of these, you’ll find out what works for you, and that headache will be gone in no time. So without further ado, here are the 13 best relief techniques for tension headaches. 

1: Identify and avoid the cause of your headache

The first thing you should do is spend some time thinking about what might have caused your headache.

If you’ve been particularly stressed or tired lately, this could be your answer. Once you’ve identified the cause, you can then do your best to steer clear of it.

For example, try to avoid stressful situations if you can, and try to get as much rest as possible. This way, you’ll be avoiding the two main causes of tension headaches, and you’ll prevent the pain from getting worse.

2: Rest in a dark and quiet room

Resting in a dark and quiet room is the perfect way to give yourself a chance to relieve your headache. There are two main reasons why this is such an effective relief technique for tension headaches:

  1. Rest: You will give your body a break and a chance to recover. Headaches also tend to be worse the more tired you are.
  2. Light and Sound Sensitivity: By laying down in a room that’s both dark and quiet, there won’t be anything to further aggravate your headache, and you’ll be able to spend some time de-stressing without distractions.

3: Stay hydrated

Staying Hydrated to Prevent Headache

Dehydration can be a cause of tension headaches, so if you feel a headache coming on, make sure you drink plenty of water.

If dehydration is the cause of your headache, drinking water can ease the pain or even get rid of your headache completely.

In addition to water, herbal tea can be a good drink to keep yourself hydrated. You may also feel more relaxed after drinking a cup of herbal tea, and relaxing is key to fighting off a tension headache.

Keep in mind, that some drinks such as coffee and soda can actually have more dehydrating tendencies. Stick to the water or tea.

4: Avoid caffeine and alcohol

Coffee | DehydrationWhile it’s important to stay hydrated, as previously mentioned, there are some liquids you don’t want to drink when you’ve got a headache.

It’s best to steer clear of both caffeine and alcohol, as these will just dehydrate you further!

So as tempting as that morning coffee might be, do your best to give it a miss. And if you are used to winding down from the work day with a beer or a highball, consider a Shirley temple instead while suffering from a tension headache.

5: Take over the counter pain medication

Over-the-counter pain medication can give you temporary relief from the pain of your headache.

You should be able to find over the counter medication that’s specifically for headaches, such as ibuprofen.

Just remember to stick to the recommended amount, and try to avoid taking over the counter medication too frequently. This one is more of a quick fix than a long-term solution. 

For a list of the best over-the-counter medication for headaches, click here

6: Tension headache massage therapy

You’ll be pleased to hear that going for a massage could be key to relieving your tension headache.

You’ll need to see your doctor first to ask for a referral, but targeted medical massage therapy for the neck and shoulder regions can not only relieve the pain of your headaches but also stop them from occurring so regularly.

People are often amazed by how effective this relief technique is for tension headaches, but the science behind it is actually pretty simple. The pressure applied during the massage relieves muscle tension so that there’s less pressure on the surrounding nerves and blood vessels.

7: Massage your pressure points

As well as professional medical massage therapy, it can also help your headache if you massage yourself. Have you ever felt that instinct to rub your temples when you’ve had a headache?

That’s your body’s way of telling you what it needs. So listen to your instincts, and gently rub your temples and the areas under your eyes. This will act like a mini targeted massage.

The reason that rubbing these areas offers so much pain relief is because they are pressure points that can be used to relieve tension. There are also other pressure points that you can massage to relieve tension headaches, such as at the base of the skull or the inside of the eyebrows. Again, you might have noticed that your hands are naturally drawn to these points when you have a headache.

Two slightly stranger pressure points that can be massaged to relieve tension headaches are:

  1. The point between your thumb and index finger
  2. The point between your big toe and second toe.

To massage between your thumb and index finger, firmly pinch the fleshy area and massage. For the pressure point between your toes, press down on the top of your foot, about an inch back from the point where your two toes meet.

8: Press something hot or cold to your head

Ice Pack for a Headache

Both heat and cold can be used to relieve the pain of a tension headache, as both can relieve muscle tension.

If you want to use something cold, you could use an ice pack wrapped in a towel, and then just lay it on your forehead, or press it to the back of your neck. Try to do this for at least 5-10 minutes, and just sit back and relax while the cold pack takes effect.

If you’d rather use heat to relieve your headache, you could use a warm compress in the same way. You can always make a warm compress from a warm and moist towel.

Taking a warm shower works well too, but make sure the water gets your head, neck, and shoulders nice and warm.

9: Use essential oils

Essential oils can not only provide pain relief from tension headaches, but they can also help you de-stress (because as we all know, having a headache can be very stressful).

The best essential oil for relieving tension headaches is peppermint oil. You can rub this into your temples while giving yourself a mini massage, and in just minutes you’ll start to feel the benefit. By rubbing it into your temples you’ll stimulate blood flow in your forehead, and prevent muscular contractions. You’ll also notice the soothing cooling effect it has on your skin.

If you don’t have peppermint oil, don’t panic. There are a few other oils that can also be used to relieve headaches, including lavender and eucalyptus oil.

When you think of lavender, you likely think of relaxing and sleeping, which is exactly why it’s such a useful oil for those with headaches. Tiredness and stress both cause and worsen tension headaches, so using lavender oil as an aroma, or applying it to the temples like peppermint oil, can help you manage your headaches.

Acupuncture for HeadachesAs for eucalyptus, just inhaling the aroma from eucalyptus oil can relieve your pain. It has anti-inflammatory effects, and can also help you relax.

10: Acupuncture

If you’re open to the idea of acupuncture, you might just find that this is the perfect technique to relieve tension headaches.

Acupuncture isn’t so much for people who just get an occasional headache; this is more for those who have regular tension headache episodes.

How it works is needles are inserted into specific points in your body, which then trigger a response from your body’s nervous system. Your body, in response, then increases blood flow, which relaxes the muscles in your head and neck, and releases natural painkillers. Therefore, it is a more natural method of pain relief.

11: Talk to your doctor

If your tension headache isn’t relenting, or it’s particularly painful, you should visit your doctor and ask for advice. Your doctor may be able to prescribe a medication for you, to make your headaches more bearable, or they may be able to give something to prevent tension headaches from occurring so regularly.

Poor Posture and HeadachesWhat your doctor suggests will be dependent on you personally, but they’ll be able to offer and advise on more relief techniques for tension headaches. 

12: Sit up straight!

A bad posture can cause the onset of a tension headache, or if you’re already suffering from a headache, it’s definitely not going to help. So do your best to sit up straight as this will relieve the strain on the muscles in your neck and upper back.

Avoid slouching, and sit upright with your shoulders back. You could also use things like ergonomic chairs to ensure you’re maintaining a good posture.

13: Make a spicy snack

A little spice from cayenne can go a long way when you’ve got a headache. In fact, eating something that involves cayenne is a tasty way to relieve pain anywhere in the body. We can get capsaicin from cayenne, and capsaicin battles with Substance P in the body – Substance P being what makes us feel pain. 

If you don’t fancy eating anything spicy, there’s a slightly more bizarre but just as effective way to get a good intake of capsaicin.

You can mix ¼ teaspoon of cayenne with 4 ounces of warm water, and then use a cotton swab to soak up some of the mixtures. Then you dab the swab gently on the inside of each nostril (it will burn a little, but that’s actually a sign that it’s working). It’s a quicker, but not so pleasant way to use cayenne to battle tension headaches.

Chiropractic Care As a Relief Technique for Tension Headaches

Chiropractic Adjustment | Headache Relief

Chiropractic Care is also an excellent way to help relieve painful tension headaches.

There are many Chiropractic Treatments that are beneficial for alleviating headaches such as:

  • Spinal Manipulations
  • Instrument-Assisted Techniques
  • Relaxation Methods

If you live in Florida and would like to visit with an excellent team of Chiropractic Doctors, contact Florida Spine and Injury today.

Click the link below for a Free Consultation.

Free Headache Consultation

Original Article Written Here

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