Headaches are one of the most common health complaints in Australia with around 15% of us taking pain killers for a headache at any one time. In most cases, this will be for a tension headache, which may feel like tightness at the front or sides of the head.
Tension headache symptoms
Two out of three people will experience tension headaches sometime in their life. Although these headaches are more common in women than men, the symptoms are much the same for everyone:
- pain that feels like a tight, squeezing band all over the head
- pain that is mild to moderate, not severe
- pain that is usually short lived.
Many people who have tension headaches experience one or two every month. The good news is that pain is usually the only symptom, and there are some simple steps to help manage it.
Is tension the real cause?
Tension headaches, as the name suggests, are thought to be muscle-related and closely linked to physical tension in the muscles of the scalp or neck. However, a wide range of things can trigger an attack including eye problems, infections, emotional stress, the weather, certain foods and the menstrual cycle.
Managing tension headaches
Tension headaches can be debilitating, but are rarely serious. Readily available, over-the-counter pain relievers have been proven to work in easing tension headache pain.
Other things to try include:
- regular exercise – tension headaches may be alleviated by exercise. Fitting some exercise into day-to-day life could help relieve muscle tension and alleviate stress-related symptoms.
- relaxing and managing stress – massaging the shoulders and neck, applying a warm towel to the forehead or neck, yoga, and even having a warm bath can help you to relax. Specific relaxation exercises may also help.
- avoiding triggers – these can include certain foods, poor posture, stress or anxiety, eye strain and even feeling hungry. For more information on headache triggers, read the article Top 10 Headache Triggers.
- avoid drinking too much alcohol or becoming dehydrated.
When to see a doctor
Ask your doctor or pharmacist for advice if you are worried about your tension headache, or if you have symptoms such as:
- headaches are frequent or severe
- a headache that develops quickly
- a headache that doesn’t get better or gets worse
- a headache that is triggered by coughing, sneezing, or exercise
- a headache that is different to your usual headache
- a headache that is accompanied by other symptoms, such as confusion, drowsiness, fever, numbness, persistent vomiting, slurred speech, loss of vision, feeling weak
- a headache that appears after an accident, especially if where the head has received a blow.