Tension-type headaches

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Tension-type headaches are characterized as mild to moderate pain that feels similar to a band that tightens around the neck. Many individuals occasionally experience tension-type headaches. The exact cause is not fully understood but might be linked to a lower-than-normal threshold for pain and even stress might be involved.

Nevertheless, the connection of stress is not clearly understood and not the only explanation for the symptoms. Other issues can add up or trigger the headache such as jaw and joint issues, sleep disturbances, eye strain or even neck pain.

What are the symptoms of tension-type headaches?

Tension-type headaches
For mild to moderate tension-type headaches, any over-the-counter pain medication can be given such as acetaminophen, aspirin or ibuprofen to provide relief.

The tension-type headaches feel similar to a tightening band around the head that causes the entire head to ache. The episodes can be described as:

  • Episodic – occur less than 15 days in a month with pain that is mild to moderate. An episode can last 30 minutes up to several days. The headache usually starts several hours after waking and intensifies as the day progresses and rarely wakes an individual from sleep
  • Chronic – occur 15 or more days in a month and the severity intensifies as more episodes occur. The pain can vary in intensity throughout the day but always present.

This type of headache is rarely severe and does not disrupt daily activities. The episodes are not teamed with nausea and vomiting and not aggravated by light, physical activity, odors or sounds.


For mild to moderate tension-type headaches, any over-the-counter pain medication can be given such as acetaminophen, aspirin or ibuprofen to provide relief. It is also recommended to massage the affected area to reduce the pain. In most cases of mild to moderate episodes, many do not seek medical care.

If the over-the-counter measures are not effective and the headaches become severe, it might be a different type of headache.

In some individuals, caffeine which is a component in some headache preparations can enhance the effect of analgesics. Nevertheless, the overuse of analgesics, caffeine, opioids or triptans can trigger daily headaches. These headaches can be present if an individual awakens in the morning.

The headaches can also worsen or occur once the drugs used to treat the headache are abruptly stopped. With this in mind, it is vital to closely work with a doctor for changes on the drugs used and if behavioral or psychological measures can be used.

For chronic cases, some medications that are used to prevent migraines specifically amitriptyline can be used.

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