Headaches caused due to stress and tension is one of the most common complaints today. The increased pressure on individuals be it work or otherwise, takes its toll on the body and the mind. The effect of this pressure and stress on the body, in most cases, manifests as headaches, common referred to as the tension type headaches. Overwhelming majorities of the population, have, at some point of time in their life, experienced this form of headache and if not, are very much likely to experience it sometime in the future.
Tension headaches are a non specific type of headache usually associated with everyday tension and fatigue. Along with migraine and cluster headaches, this type of headache is classified as ‘Primary Headache’ by the International Headache Society, which means that the pain is not a result of some inherent body condition or illness as is the case in secondary headaches. The underlying cause for this type of headache is the tension and the stress that manifest itself as pain in the head as well as the upper neck region.
Symptoms and Signs
Age is no bar for the signs of tension headache to appear. It afflicts people across all age groups, young and old alike. The most common symptoms of tension headaches are:
- Mostly, the pain ranges from mild to moderate but severe headache may also be experienced at times.
- Constant headache that presents itself on both sides of the head. The pain is persistent, but not throbbing or pulsating like that experienced in the case of migraines or sinus headaches.
- Excessive pressure felt on the head, especially in the forehead area. A certain unexplained tightness may also be felt around the region.
- The pain is usually felt around the temples as well as the back of the head, radiating into the upper neck area.
- Usually tension headaches are not accompanied by nausea or vomiting. the symptoms are pretty plain and clear.
Women are affected more often, compared to men. The constant pain usually does not affect normal work, but can be a huge irritant.
Mostly tension headaches occur on an episodic basis and do not necessarily recur the next day or after a few hours if the stimuli for the pain are removed. In case the stimuli present themselves constantly, the pain keeps recurring or persists as long as the triggers are active. Tension type headaches are also experienced, sometimes, by people suffering from migraine.
Types of Tension Headaches
Tension headaches are broadly classified as episodic or chronic, depending upon the duration as well as the periodicity of the pain experienced by the person.
- Episodic Headache: All or most of the signs and symptoms of tension headaches, if experienced by the person for less than ten days a month, then the person is said to be suffering from episodic headache. This type of headache can get promoted to the chronic type if proper care is not taken at the proper time to reduce the stress and the tension which are the main culprits in this case.
- Chronic Headache: If the pain persists for at least 15 days or more in a month for around three months, then the pain is termed as chronic.
Common Causes of Tension Headaches
Tension headaches are not just the result of physical stress and fatigue but are also a product of the ongoing biochemistry of the brain. Several physical as well as emotional stress triggers the onset of the headache. Sometimes, even hunger and general fatigue may trigger this type of headache.
Physical strain such as long hours of work, bad posture, sleep deprivation and arduous physical activity may act as triggers. Apart from physical triggers, certain emotional triggers are also responsible for tension type headaches. When the emotional stress is relaxed, the headache eases.
Chronic headaches, on the other hand, are not caused, but may be associated with certain other conditions of the body and the mind such depression and excessive anxiety.
Treating Tension Type Headaches
Tension headaches are very benign and respond to treatment within a very short span of time. Usually the episodic pain responds well to most over the counter analgesics such as Ibuprofen, Aspirin and Paracetamol. However, it is best to stay away from tablets unless the pain is unbearable and disturbs your activities as medication overuse results in a different type of headache altogether which is much more sever and intense. It makes sense to try out alternate ways to deal with and ameliorate the pain before going in for medication.
Some of the more effective treatment options for this type of headache are found right at home. Massages, yoga, exercise and relaxation techniques are some things you can practice at the comfort of your homes.
- Sleeping is one of the best treatment options when it comes to tension headaches and most people seem to vouch for this fact. In most cases, the pain fades away when you wake up from sleep as the body and the muscles are adequately rested and the stress is removed.
- Another great option is to drink plenty of water as it restores the pH balance of the body and is extremely effective in cases of headaches caused due to dehydration.
- Sometimes, going out in the sun or staying outdoors for too long may give rise to headache. In such a case, it is advisable to rest and avoid going out when the sun is at its peak.
- One of the most favorite home remedies for headaches related to stress and tension are the ever famous, cold compresses. Placing a cloth dipped in ice cold water over the eyes as well as the forehead is very effective in relieving the pain as well as the stress caused to your eyes.
- The hot option may be preferred by a few, where, cold water is replaced by warm to luke warm water and hot compresses are given to the eyes as well as the forehead.
- Exercise is one of the best ways to fight tension headaches. Simple activities such as walking and jogging may produce the desired effect as it helps to ameliorate the stress and also increases the blood and oxygen flow of the body. Stretching exercises are also highly recommended to relax the back as well as the neck.
- Smoking, sometimes, tend to aggravate headaches. It is best to keep away from smoke for this, as well as a host of other health related benefits. The same applies to drinking alcoholic beverages as well.
- Posture is key when it comes to preventing the strain to the neck as well as the spinal cord. Long hours of work at the office may trigger headaches and if wrong posture is found to be the main reason, posture corrections should be made to avoid aggravating the pain.
- Herbal tea is known to have beneficial effects when it comes to headaches. Teas infused with the essence of holy basil and rosemary soothe the senses and relieve stress. Aromatherapy is another effective option to treat headaches. Essential oils of eucalyptus, patchouli and lavender ease the stress and the associated pain.
- Yoga and meditation provide immense relief from various bodily ailments and are quite effective when it some to tension headaches. The Shavasana or the corpse posture helps relax all the muscles and removes the stress from the body.
Dealing with tension headaches on a daily basis may be annoying, but on the bright side, these headaches are not life threatening or malignant and do not recur once the core cause is identified and treated. Due care should be taken to identify the underlying cause for quick and effective treatment.