What Are Tension Headaches?

Tension HeadachesTension headaches come in many forms with varying degrees of pain. Sharp, steady, throbbing or tight, lingering headache pain is never convenient. Part of the frustration of headaches is their often-untraceable triggers. Approximately 45 million people in the U.S. suffer from chronic headaches1. Tension headaches are the most common form of headaches. While it was believed tension headaches were the result of neck or scalp muscles becoming tense and contracting, researchers have only found this to be true in some tension headaches. A new theory describes interference in nerve pathways to the brain as a more likely commonality of tension headaches2.


Watch Dr. McJunkin and Our Other Doctors Explain Headache Conditions and Treatments

Tension Headaches ExplainedTension headaches can be set off in response to some sort of habitual trigger. Staring at a screen for too long or working under great stress are some of the simple common triggers of tension headaches. Certain foods and beverages can also trigger pain. Alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine are ingestible products that can cause tension headaches upon consumption or withdrawal. Pain from these headaches is usually dull and all over the head. A tight, band-like feeling in the forehead can also accompany the pain. Along with these primary symptoms, people with tension headaches often report secondary ailments, such as irritability, disrupted concentration, and sensitivity to noise or light. Tension headaches are said to be chronic if they occur in sufferers more than 15 times per month. Over 90% of women report suffering from tension headaches at some point in their lives versus 70% of men. These headaches are most common for middle-aged people, presumably because of the connection to stress3.

While sufferers of tension headaches can usually fight through the day, persistent pain can be frustrating and exhausting. Over-the-counter pain medication such as ibuprofen and aspirin can temporarily relieve pain and sometimes outlast the headache altogether. Doctors note that patients with frequent tension headaches should not go to this route too often, as these quick-fix drugs can backfire by actually causing overuse headaches. Doctors can prescribe antidepressants and muscle relaxants as preventative medications for chronic headaches.

Acupuncture Therapy Tension HeadachesDoctors consider patients’ environments when determining the nature of tension headaches. Paying attention to surrounding factors can help identity possible triggers of tension headaches. Writing down behavior and feelings that accompany head pain in a headache journal is a popular exercise for frequent sufferers. By identifying these triggers, doctors are able to recommend subtle lifestyle changes that will reduce the amount of tension headaches in a patient. Whether it’s perfecting posture or squeezing a stress ball, small changes can produce a great tension decrease.

The rapidly developing field of alternative medicine is also invested in treating tension headaches. Acupuncture, massage therapy, and biofeedback have become viable treatment options for chronic headaches. Medical doctors are at the forefront of these fields, which use technology and a hands-on approach to prevent pain4.

Headache Journal

Those with headaches may wish to download the Arizona Pain Specialists’ headache journal to document what you are experiencing. This record can be extremely useful during your next visit with our doctors or clinicians, and it takes the pressure off of you to remember and describe your exact symptoms.

Use our journal to document the details of your headaches, possible causes, what treatment you attempted (medication, herbal remedies, or a dark room), and the effects of that treatment.

At Arizona Pain, our goal is to relieve your pain and improve function to increase your quality of life.
Give us a call today at 480-563-6400.


  1. Tension Headache. (n.d.). Retrieved 2011 йил 11-July from MedlinePlus: www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency
  2. Staff, M. C. (n.d.). Tension Headache. Retrieved July 20, 2011, from Mayo Clinic: www.mayoclinic.com/diseases-conditions/tension-headache
  3. Migraines & Headaches Health Center. (n.d.). Retrieved July 20 , 2011, from WebMD: www.webmd.com/migraines-headaches
  4. Staff, M. C. (n.d.). Tension Headache. Retrieved July 20, 2011, from Mayo Clinic: www.mayoclinic.com/diseases-conditions/tension-headache