Tension Headaches

Tension headaches are characterized by a dull, aching pain that spreads across the forehead, temples, and back of the head.

The basics

Tension headaches are characterized by a dull, aching pain that spreads across the forehead, temples, and back of the head. They can vary in intensity, ranging from mild to severe. People with tension headaches often describe feeling like they have a tight band around their head, and the pain is often described as a constant pressure. Tension headaches can affect anyone, but tend to be more common in adults than children. They can be caused by a variety of factors, including stress, anxiety, poor posture, and muscle tension.

Pediatric tension headaches

While the exact cause of tension headaches in children is not well understood, factors such as stress, anxiety, poor posture, eye strain, and dehydration may contribute to their development. It is crucial for parents and caregivers to monitor their child's headache frequency, duration, and intensity, as well as any potential triggers. Non-pharmacological approaches, such as manual therapies, relaxation techniques, stress management, maintaining a regular sleep schedule, and encouraging proper hydration, can be beneficial in preventing and managing tension headaches in pediatric patients.

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Tension headaches manifest as a dull, aching pain, typically affecting both sides of the head. The pain is often described as constant pressure and can vary from mild to severe. Alongside the pain, individuals may experience other symptoms, such as:

  • Tightness or pressure around the forehead or temples
  • Pain that worsens with physical activity
  • Sensitivity to light or noise
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty sleeping

These symptoms can last from a few hours to several days and may be chronic (occurring 15 or more days per month) or episodic (occurring less frequently).

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Therapies & treatments

Orofacial Pain Therapy

Orofacial pain therapy can be helpful in identifying and treating underlying jaw or facial pain that may contribute to tension headaches.


Pain specialists and general practitioners may prescribe medications such as NSAIDs, muscle relaxants, or tricyclic antidepressants to manage tension headache pain. They may also suggest over-the-counter pain relievers or prescription medications such as triptans for acute headaches.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is a form of talk therapy that can help patients manage stress, anxiety, and negative thought patterns that may contribute to tension headaches. A trained psychologist or therapist can teach coping skills for managing pain and addressing underlying psychological factors.

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)

MBSR is a meditation-based therapy that can help patients reduce stress and anxiety, focus on the present moment, and manage pain. A trained psychologist or therapist can teach techniques such as breathing exercises and body scans to promote relaxation and reduce tension headache symptoms.


Physical therapy can help improve posture, reduce muscle tension, and increase flexibility through exercises, stretches, and other techniques. A trained physiotherapist can develop a personalized exercise plan to address specific tension headache symptoms and promote healing.


Working with a nutritionist can help identify trigger foods and develop healthy eating habits to manage tension headache pain and improve overall health. A nutritionist may also recommend supplements such as magnesium or other nutrients to help prevent tension headaches.

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Self-care strategies

Manage stress

Stress is a common trigger for tension headaches, so practicing stress management techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, yoga, or tai chi can be helpful in reducing the frequency and severity of headaches.

Get enough sleep

Poor sleep quality or lack of sleep can increase the likelihood of tension headaches. Establishing a regular sleep routine and practicing good sleep hygiene can help improve sleep quality.

Exercise regularly

Regular physical activity can help reduce tension and improve overall health, which can lead to a decrease in tension headaches. Aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise per day, such as walking, swimming, or cycling.

Improve posture

Poor posture can contribute to tension headaches, so practicing good posture habits throughout the day can help reduce strain on the neck and shoulders.

Take breaks

If you work at a desk or spend a lot of time on the computer or phone, take frequent breaks to stretch, move, and rest your eyes.

Use heat or cold therapy

Applying a warm or cold compress to the head or neck can help reduce tension and alleviate headache pain.


Dehydration can trigger tension headaches, so make sure to drink enough water throughout the day.

Manage caffeine intake

Caffeine can both relieve and trigger headaches, so it is important to monitor caffeine intake and limit it if necessary.

Identify triggers

Keep a headache diary to identify any triggers that may be contributing to tension headaches, such as stress, certain foods, or environmental factors.

Seek support

Talking to friends, family, or a mental health professional can help manage stress and anxiety, which can contribute to tension headaches.

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