Tension headaches are one of the most common types of headaches and experts say many of us will suffer from them at some point in our lives. It’s no surprise given what causes them.
Triggers for tension headaches, according to Headache Australia, include:
- Poor posture
- Bright lights
- Prolonged reading (like staring at a computer for hours)
- Loud noise
- Medication overuse
- Caffeine withdrawal
Sound familiar? While they can be a symptom of something more serious, tension headaches can simply be triggered by long, busy days in the office, especially stressful ones.
“Stress is thought to trigger our body’s fight or flight response, which is characterised by shallow breathing, faster heart rate and raised blood pressure, and greater amounts of stress chemicals such as adrenaline,” according to Better Health.
Stress can cause or worsen a headache in a number of ways, including:
- Tightening the muscles, particularly of the upper back, shoulders, neck and head
- Lowering a person’s tolerance to pain
- Reducing the effects of medications such as pain killers
- Reducing the levels of endorphins, which are the body’s natural pain relieving chemicals.
Tension headache symptoms
Pain caused by tension headaches may vary in intensity. They can also vary in frequency. Some people get tension headaches once in awhile, others experience “recurrent and episodic pain that can last for minutes, hours, days, months or even years”.
“Tension headaches are mainly caused by tightness in the muscles of the scalp and back of the neck,” beauty editor Natalie Lukaitis wrote in a piece for Marie Claire.
“You’re likely to feel a dull pressure or tightness around your head, especially your forehead.”
Other tension headache symptoms published by Headache Australia include:
- Jabs of sudden pain in the head
- Aches in the back or over the left side of the chest
- Sensitivity to light and noise
- Nausea and indigestion
- Trouble concentrating
- Difficulty sleeping.
If tension headaches are affecting your life, it’s a good idea to start by talking to your GP about the options available. The Mayo Clinic also has some handy remedies to try, including:
- Managing your stress level. One way to help reduce stress is by planning ahead and organising your day. Another way is to allow more time to rest
- Applying heat or ice (whichever you prefer) to sore muscles. This may ease a tension headaches. For heat, use a hot water bottle, a warm compress or a hot towel. A hot bath or shower also may help. For cold, wrap ice, an ice pack or frozen vegetables in a cloth and place it on the painful area
- Perfecting your posture. Good posture can help keep your muscles from tensing. When standing, hold your shoulders back and your head level. When sitting, make sure your thighs are parallel to the ground and your head isn’t slumped forward.