Tension-type headache (TTH) is the most common headache. It typically produces a generalized mild to moderate pain all over the head. It can also cause pain in the back of the neck at the base of the skull. The actual cause of tension-type headaches is still up for debate. Muscle tension was one thought to be the main cause of this particular type of headache pain, but researchers are not convinced it’s the only cause, hence the name “tension-type.”
Tension Headaches: Symptoms
Most TTH sufferers report that the pain starts soon after waking in the morning or early in the day. Typical symptoms include:
- Dull, aching and non-pulsating pain
- Tenderness on the scalp, neck and shoulder muscles
- A tightening band-like sensation around the neck and/or head
- Difficulty sleeping
- Loss of appetite
- Difficulty concentrating
Tension Headaches: Triggers
Common TTH triggers include:
- Missed meals
- Lack of sleep
- Bright lights
- Cigarette smoke
Tension Headaches: Diagnosis
Accurate diagnosis is critical to successful headache treatment. That being said, both you and your physician need to communicate clearly to effectively diagnose and treat your disorder. Ask your doctor direct and specific questions and make sure you understand the answers. The more clearly and specifically you can communicate your symptoms to your physician, the more likely you are to find relief.
Headaches are diagnosed by matching symptoms to typical headache patterns. Keeping a headache diary can help your doctor identify triggers and isolate precipitating factors that may either contribute to or aggravate your condition. In addition, knowing your family medical history can help your doctor to accurately diagnose a disorder.
Once diagnosed, educating yourself on the type of headache you have and appropriate treatment for it can help you effectively manage it. For many headaches sufferers, some combination of stress management therapy and medication is often an effective way to manage their disorder. Because people react differently to various medications and therapies, you and your physician will need to find the right combination to help you prevent and effectively manage emerging headaches.
The good news is that headache research and treatment are evolving specialties. New and increasingly successful therapies are emerging every day.
Tension Headaches: Treatment
Once a diagnosis is made, treatments vary depending on the type of headache and frequency. The NeuroHealth team will develop a customized and comprehensive treatment plan that employs physical, environmental, nutritional, behavioral and pharmacological measures to help you alleviate your headaches. Example components of our treatment plans include:
- Education in prevention techniques
- Coping skills to enhance well-being
- Pain and stress management training
- Relaxation therapy biofeedback
- Education in mind, body, spirit connection
- Education in lifestyle, nutritional and health issues
- Strengthening exercises
- Pharmacological preventive, abortive and rescue remedies
- Botulinum toxin injection therapy
- Trigger point injection therapy
Over time, we follow and evaluate your treatment plan together with you to determine the most effective course of action and tools to help you reduce your headache suffering, even prevent it, and take control of your life.
Tension Headaches: Resources
NIH Neurological Institute
P.O. Box 5801
Bethesda, MD 20824
Voice: (800) 352-9424 or (301) 496-5751
TTY (for people using adaptive equipment): (301) 468-5981