Tension Headaches – What Causes Frequent Pain Around Forehead And How It Can Be Treated?

Tension Headaches – What Causes Frequent Pain Around Forehead And How It Can Be Treated?

Do you know that frequently occurring headache is not migraine? Are you the one who is suffering from dull pain, tightness and pressure around the forehead and back of the neck? You might be suffering from tension headache, one of the most debilitating and common ‘everyday’ type of headaches. Let’s go through tension headaches, its triggers and how to get rid of it.

Tension headache

A tension headache is a mild to moderate pain in your head and back of your neck. Imagine you are feeling like a rubber-band is tightly wrapped around your head. Tension headaches are not only painful but can also affect your quality of life.

People suffering from tension headaches most often suffer from episodic headaches which occurs a couple of times in a month. However, this doesn’t mean tension headaches are acute; they can be chronic occurring about 15 times or more in a month, for over 3 months.

How common is tension headache?

Tension type headache is considered to be the second most prevalent headache disorder worldwide. It is one of the most common types of primary headaches in India, accounting for over 90 percent of all types of headaches. Chronic tension headache accounts for about 3 percent of the world population.

Women are twice at risk of getting tension headache as compared to men.

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Causes – What triggers tension headache?

The exact cause of tension headache is not known but many experts believe that it arises due to muscle contractions on the face, scalp and neck region. These contractions can occur due to intensified emotions or stress. Some other suggests that tension headache occurs due to variety of activities or certain diets.

Many people complain of tension headache after staring at the computer screen for a longer period of time or after a long drive. Sometimes, change in temperatures may also generate tension headache. Other triggers may include:

Symptoms - How tension headache feel like?

Tension headache can be described as pressure or tightening on sides of the head. This typically begins from the forehead and then radiates around to the rear of the head. This can last from 30 minutes to 7 days. People suffering from tension headache also report of low appetite or face trouble focusing or sleeping.

The pain is typically mild to moderate but sometimes it can be intense. This makes us believe that tension headache and migraine are the same, but these are separate conditions.

Tension headache vs Migraine

Tension headache may have similar symptoms to that of migraine or may co-exist at a time, but they are quite different from each other. However, both of these can create a tricky situation, even for doctors as sometimes they share similar symptoms such as insensitivity to loud noise and light.

  1. The first difference is that people with tension headache won’t have similar symptoms as that of migraine such as nausea or vomiting.
  2. Migraine tends to be throbbing and occurs on one side while tension headaches are more muscular in nature.
  3. Physical activity can make migraine pain worse but it’s not the case with tension headache
  4. Light sensitivity can occur in tension headache but it is more common in migraine

Diagnosis of tension headache

Depending on your case, the doctor would conduct a physical examination as well as a range of neurological tests. The doctor would be asking about the characteristic of the pain, location and its intensity whether it is hindering your daily activities.

The doctor might also run imaging tests such as CT scan and MRI if your condition is complicated. This is to rule out brain tumor or any other such condition.

What treatment options are available for tension headache?

While the good news is that tension headaches can be treated by over-the-counter medicine, unfortunately, repeated use of OTC pain relievers may trigger another type of headache known as overuse headache. So the best bet is to use variety of OTC and prescribed medication along with some preventive medications.

Some common treatment options for tension headache include:


  • Aspirin or ibuprofen can relieve you from pain. However, these medicines should only be taken occasionally.
  • Prescribed medicines such as indomethacin, naproxen, and acetaminophen.
  • Muscle relaxant such as topiramate that prevents muscle contractions.
  • Antidepressant such as amitriptyline or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI).
  • Triptans and narcotics which can work in both migraine and tension headache, but they are hardly used because of their potential side effects and fear of dependency.

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Home remedies and alternative treatment

The doctor may also advise you following treatments:

Stress management classes - To help in relieving tension and give more time for relaxing.

Improve posture – Appropriate posture prevents your muscles from tensing.

Apply ice or heat – Using hot water bottle, warm compress and hot bath may ease sore muscles. Applying an ice pack or frozen vegetables wrapped in a cloth 5-10 minutes several times a day may also help in pain.

Biofeedback – Through this relaxation technique, you can learn how to control bodily functions which in turn, helps you in managing pain and cope with stress.

Acupuncture – This alternative therapy uses fine needles on specific areas of the body in order to provide temporary relief from headache and stress.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) – This talking therapy helps you manage problems by changing the way you think. It helps improve anxiety and stress.

Are there any preventive measures?

Tension headaches mostly occur due to specific triggers, so identifying those triggers is the first step towards preventing future episodes. For this, you can maintain a diary in which you record all the things including time of occurrence, daily meals, drink and beverages and physical activities.

After going through several weeks or months, you might be able to determine the factor. For instance, if your diary shows that headache happened on days when you consumed a particular food, this may be your trigger.

On the other hand, severe symptoms should not be ignored. If your headache suddenly starts of it is accompanied by slurred speech, high fever and loss of balance, this may indicate other serious conditions such as tumor or stroke. Seek medical help immediately in such cases.