What are tension headaches?

Tension headaches are the most common type of headache, and many people will experience at least one in 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. Rarely, tension headaches may indicate a need for medical attention.

Tension headaches are thought to form due to muscle tension around the head. However, they are usually called tension-type headaches, because this explanation may not be entirely correct. As a general rule, someone who suffers from one experiences a feeling of tightness around the head and face, and sometimes the pain also migrates to the back of the neck. The pain usually takes the form of a dull ache in 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 can help the patient establish triggers for headaches so they can be avoided. In some cases, medications may be prescribed to prevent their appearance 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 professional to listen to her body, trying to correct the imbalance that may cause pain.

Episodic tension headaches can be treated with over-the-counter pain relievers, such as aspirin. People may also find relief by taking a warm shower, lying down in a cool room, exercising, or participating in another activity that reduces pain. These activities vary individually, and it may take some experimentation to find one that works. Some patients also find that consulting with a headache specialist yields helpful techniques for treating the condition.

In addition to treating the pain of tension headaches when they occur, patients can also make lifestyle changes to reduce their frequency. Eating well and sleeping well seem to help with headaches and other health problems. Exercising regularly and reducing stress and tension in a patient's life can also prevent headaches from developing. Certain foods can increase the likelihood of tension headaches, including caffeine, and an elimination diet can help you find other trigger foods.

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