Tension Headaches: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment


Tension headaches are a common type of headache that can cause mild to moderate pain and discomfort. They are often caused by stress, anxiety, or tension in the muscles of the head and neck. In this guide, we’ll explore the symptoms, causes, and treatments for tension headaches, so you can find relief and get back to your daily routine.

What are tension headaches?

Tension headaches are a type of headache that typically cause a dull, aching pain in the head and neck. They are often described as feeling as a tight band around the head. They are the most common type of headache, affecting up to 80% of adults at some point in their lives. They can last from a few hours to several days and can be quite debilitating, affecting a person’s ability to work, study, or enjoy leisure activities.


Tension headaches can be caused by a variety of factors, including stress, anxiety, poor posture, eye strain, and muscle tension in the head and neck. They can also be triggered by certain foods, such as caffeine, alcohol, and chocolate. In some cases, they may be a side effect of medication or a symptom of an underlying medical condition, such as a sinus infection or a concussion. Understanding the underlying cause of your tension headaches can help you find the most effective treatment.

Symptoms of tension headaches

The most common symptom of a tension headache is a dull, aching pain that feels like a tight band around the head. This pain is usually mild to moderate in intensity and can last anywhere from 30 minutes to several days. Other symptoms may include sensitivity to light or sound, difficulty sleeping, and difficulty concentrating. In some cases, they may also cause nausea or vomiting. If you experience frequent or severe tension headaches, it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider to rule out any underlying medical conditions and develop an effective treatment plan.

Treatment options

Tension headaches can be treated through two main approaches: acute and prophylactic treatment. For immediate relief, simple or combined analgesics are commonly used. However, if the headaches are frequent or difficult to treat, prophylactic treatment may be necessary. Tricyclic antidepressants, particularly amitriptyline, are often the first choice for preventative treatment and have been shown to be effective in multiple double-blind, placebo-controlled studies. Other antidepressants such as mirtazapine and venlafaxine have also been documented to be effective. While there is weaker evidence for the efficacy of gabapentin, topiramate, and tizanidine, certain non-pharmacological methods such as psychotherapy and acupuncture have been shown to be effective in preventing tension headaches.

Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or yoga may also help to alleviate symptoms. In some cases, prescription medications or physical therapy may be recommended. It’s important to work with your healthcare provider to determine the best treatment plan for your individual needs. Additionally, making lifestyle changes such as getting regular exercise, reducing stress, and getting enough sleep may also help to prevent them.

Prevention tips for tension headaches

While tension headaches can be difficult to prevent entirely, there are several steps you can take to reduce your risk of experiencing them. These include practicing good posture, taking frequent breaks if you work at a computer or perform other tasks that require prolonged periods of sitting or standing, getting regular exercise, and managing stress through techniques such as meditation or deep breathing. Additionally, avoiding triggers such as caffeine, alcohol, and certain foods may also help to prevent them.