(Muscle Contraction Headache; Tension-Type Headache)
Tension headache refers to head pain associated with stress and muscle contraction. These headaches may occur only occasionally in response to a stressful event. They may also be chronic, occurring frequently. Some tension headaches are nearly constant, with daily pain that may vary in intensity.
Tension headaches may occur when muscles in the neck, face, and scalp contract, which produce pain. The precise cause of this muscle contraction is unknown. Factors that may contribute to tension headache include:
A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition. Your risk of getting a tension headache increases with:
Tension headache symptoms usually start slowly and build.
Headaches can become so severe and constant that they interfere with normal activities and sleep.
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam. The cause of a headache can be difficult to determine.
Tests may include:
Tension headaches are managed, rather than cured. Therapies aim to stop the headache and reduce the frequency of future episodes.
Treatment may include:
Medications may include:
Self-care during the Headache
Self-care may include:
Lifestyle changes may include:
Additional therapies may include:
If you are diagnosed with a tension headache, follow your doctor's instructions.
You may be able to reduce the chance of a tension headache by learning how to manage stress. Try the following strategies:
American Headache Society
National Headache Foundation
Headache Network Canada
Help for Headaches
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8/27/2010 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us: Robberstad L, Dyb G, Hagen K, Stovner LJ, Holmen TL, Zwart JA. An unfavorable lifestyle and recurrent headaches among adolescents: The HUNT Study. Neurology. 2010;75(8):712-717.
Last reviewed September 2011 by Rimas Lukas, MD