Everything You Wanted to Know About Tension Headaches

Tension Headaches: An Introduction

A tension headache or ordinary headache or muscle tension headache or stress headache is characterized by mild to moderate pain affecting the forehead or back of the neck and head.

Most people compare the pain from a tension headache to the discomfort caused by a tight band around their forehead. Though tension headaches can occur at any age, they are most common in adults and older teens.

Episodic Vs. Chronic Headaches

Most people with tension headaches experience sudden episodes of pain, while others complain of chronic pain. Chronic headaches affect around three percent of the country’s population. A chronic headache episode may last up to 15 days. The pain can interfere with daily activities.

Episodic headaches are often associated with a stressful event. The pain subsides once the event is over or when the patient takes over-the-counter medicine for pain relief.

Chronic headaches, on the other hand, can occur at frequent intervals. They may arise in the morning, right after you wake up or after a long day of work or activity.

People with infrequent episodic-type tension headache usually do not experience more than 12 episodes of headaches in a year (an episode usually lasts 30 minutes-7 days). Frequent episodic-type tension headache is characterized by 1-14 episodes per month (average episode length – 30 minutes-7 days). People with chronic tension-type headache experience at least 15 episodes every month (an episode can last for hours).


Common symptoms of tension headaches include a sensation of constant pressure across the forehead and back of the head, dull head pain, and tenderness around the scalp.

The pain can vary from mild to severe. Tension headaches are often confused with migraines. Tension headaches do not have all the symptoms of migraines. They do not cause nausea or vomiting. In extreme cases, a tension headache can cause photophobia (light sensitivity).

Another difference between migraine and tension headaches is that physical activity can worsen migraine pain, but does not have any effect on the pain due to tension headache.


The exact cause of tension headaches is yet to be ascertained. Earlier, many experts were of the opinion that they stem from muscle contractions in the neck, scalp, and face, but studies have proved this theory wrong. Stress is widely believed to be one of the most common triggers.

Some other risk factors for tension headaches include poor posture such as constantly looking down at a cell phone and sleeping on the stomach. Driving for long hours without a break, playing video games for hours, and working on a laptop for an extended period of time can also contribute to tension headaches.

Managing Tension Headaches

Many people with tension headaches turn to chiropractic care to manage their condition. Chiropractors in Santa Rosa and elsewhere are trained to diagnose and treat different types of headaches.

Chiropractors use a combination of manual and soft tissue therapy and rehabilitation techniques to treat tension headaches. They use spinal adjustments to realign the spine. Spinal adjustments improve spinal function and alleviate stress on the nervous system.

Here are some tips and tricks chiropractors suggest to their patients with tension headaches to help them manage their condition.

Manage Your Stress Level

Unfortunately, stress has invaded our lives. Various studies have found stress to be a leading contributor to tension headaches. Stress is a silent killer. In addition to triggering tension headaches, stress can worsen or increase the risk of various health conditions such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

If you get stressed more easily and frequently than others, follow these tips to ease your stress.

➢ Adopt an active lifestyle. Exercise at least 30-45 minutes every day

➢ Practice relaxation techniques

➢ Identify and avoid triggers

➢ Make it a priority to spend more time with the people who matter

➢ Make time to do what you love

➢ Add healthy, stress-relieving foods such as eggs, shellfish, parsley, broccoli, and chickpeas to your diet

Take Regular Breaks at Work

Looking down at your mobile phone or continuously staring at a laptop screen can stress your muscles and nerves, increasing your risk of tension-type headache.

Take several mini-breaks throughout the day. Go for a short walk after lunch. Do not use your mobile phone during breaks. To reduce stress on your shoulders and neck, do shoulder and neck rolls during breaks.

Don’t Skip Your Chiropractic Appointments

Chiropractic care plans are not arbitrary. Your chiropractor plans every session in advance. Missing even a single session will impede your progress.

Chiropractic care is cumulative. At each appointment, both the chiropractor and the patient work together to make progress that builds on the progress made in the last session. Missing appointments can break this chain, prolonging your recovery.

Adjust Your Sleeping Position

Sleeping on your stomach or sleeping with the neck in an abnormal position can trigger a tension headache. Sleep on our back. Use the right mattress support. Place a pillow under your knees. To prevent pressure from building on your joints, spread your arms and legs out.

Are tension headaches keeping you up at night? Toth Chiropractic can help. Dr. Douglass Toth is a leading chiropractor in Santa Rosa. He uses time-tested chiropractic techniques to treat debilitating spine disorders. To book a consultation session with him, call (707) 526-1390.