With more than 150 different types of headaches, identifying the type you have is the first step in finding relief.
Some headaches are primary headaches, meaning they don’t stem from some other condition. Others are considered secondary headaches because they are symptoms of medical issues, such as sinus infections, dehydration, and other circumstances, rather than conditions unto themselves.
Tension headaches are the most common type of headache, and they also go by other names, such as muscle tension headaches, stress headaches, and ordinary headaches. Whatever name you give it, tension headaches can be extremely painful. You may be able to ease the discomfort at home with OTC pain relievers, but when you experience severe tension headaches often, you may need medical help.
Dr. Dinash Yanamadula at Princeton Pain & Spine Institute in Lawrenceville and Edgewater, New Jersey, specializes in pain relief and can help you manage your chronic tension headaches.
Identify your tension headache triggers
You get a tension headache when your scalp muscles contract, making you feel like your head is in a vice or wrapped with a tight band.
You can get a tension headache from living with chronic emotions or mental stress, depression, or anxiety. Tension headaches can also be a response to an injury or from holding your head and neck in one position for a long time (think typing, needlework, and looking through a microscope). Eye strain and sleeping with your head and neck at an odd angle can result in a tension headache.
While diseases and illnesses don’t cause tension headaches, they can trigger them. Colds, flu, sinus infections, dental and jaw issues, and teeth grinding can trigger a tension headache.
Alcohol, caffeine, and smoking could also lead to tension headaches.
Finding out what triggers your tension headaches is the key to finding relief. We recommend keeping a headache diary that outlines the time of day, circumstances, foods, drinks, and medical issues surrounding the headache.
Dr. Yanamadula can help you spot a pattern and identify the culprit behind your head pain.
How to relieve a tension headache
The most obvious way to avoid tension headaches is to avoid the things that set them off, especially stressful situations. However, despite your best efforts, tension headaches can still happen, and when they do, you need the tools and knowledge to overcome them quickly. Here are some practical tips.
Since stress is behind most tension headaches, relaxing can eliminate the trigger and bring relief. Sometimes that’s more easily said than done. You may need to learn relaxation exercises to help you achieve calmness. Massages help, too, whether you rub your own scalp, enlist a friend, or go to a massage therapist.
Dr. Yanamadula can help you learn how to control your tension headaches with biofeedback. He connects electrodes to your scalp and neck that transmit signals from your muscles, giving you a visual output that helps you recognize when your muscles contract and how to relax and release the tension.
Get more sleep
Fatigue can easily trigger a tension headache, so getting plenty of good quality sleep is essential to managing the problem. Check your room and ensure it checks all the boxes of an optimal sleep environment:
- Maintain a cool temperature of about 65 degrees F
- Block noises with a gentle fan or soft music
- Keep it dark
- Choose a comfortable and supportive mattress and pillow
Improved sleep quality is enough to eliminate tension headaches for some people.
Use medications — but cautiously
Over-the-counter pain relievers can stop a tension headache in its tracks, but be careful not to overdo it. Taking too much OTC medication or taking it too often can lead to medication overuse or rebound headaches.
Dr. Yanamadula may recommend prescription strength medications to handle your chronic or severe tension headaches.
Whether you suffer from tension headaches, migraine disease, or any other headache disorder, we can help. Contact Princeton Pain & Spine Institute for more information by calling our friendly staff or requesting an appointment online.