Tension Headache? Relax.


Anne Stein, M.S.
Sports & Fitness Journalist/Author

The pain

Experts aren’t sure what causes tension headaches, but we do know they’re the most common headache around, affecting nearly 90 percent of women and 70 percent of men at some point in life.

Better-known as tension-type headaches, these often feel like a (head) band of pressure wrapped around the front and/or sides of the head and neck. The pain is constant, rather than throbbing like a migraine, ranges from mild to moderate, and can last anywhere from 30 minutes to a few days.

Why so tense?

It’s theorized that a change in serotonin, endorphins and other brain chemical levels might be the cause of tension-type headaches, but a whole list of things are thought to also trigger them, including:

  • Stress (this is the primary culprit)
  • Depression, worry, anxiety
  • Jaw clenching/teeth grinding
  • Muscle tension/working, standing or sitting in one position for long periods of time

Tension-type headaches are most common among people in their 40s, although they affect all ages.

Pill me or pamper me

Over the counter pain medications (NSAIDs – non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, such as aspirin or ibuprofen) can be helpful, but if they’re overused, can actually start triggering headaches. Antidepressants are sometimes prescribed to stabilize brain chemicals.

Non-medical remedies that work for some sufferers include rest, ice packs, heating pads and hot baths or showers. A variety of stress-relieving practices, along with non-medical remedies, seems to work best in preventing and/or relieving the pain and frequency of tension-type headaches.

The main goals of these remedies are to reduce stress and relax tense muscles. One or more of these remedies may be needed to have an effect on the frequency and pain of your headaches.

Finally, it’s important to keep a headache diary to see what techniques work and how other factors, including diet, sleep, and exercise, affect your headaches. You may notice a pattern of events that trigger your headaches, such as skipping meals, not getting enough sleep, or dealing with a difficult person or situation.

Tips for relaxation

Try one or more of the following to manage stress, relax muscles, and reduce headache pain and frequency:

  • Deep breathing
  • Biofeedback
  • Meditation
  • Yoga
  • Progressive muscle relaxation
  • Therapy to deal w/depression and anxiety
  • Therapy to teach you to deal effectively with stress
  • Ice pack or heating device (depending on what works best for you) on tense muscles, especially shoulders, neck and back
  • Massage (use Moji 360 and Moji 360 Palm to self-massage scalp, face, temples or have a buddy use them for you)
  • Acupuncture
  • Electrical nerve stimulation
  • Regular exercise (cardio, strength training, stretching) – at least five, 30-minute sessions a week. These can be divided into 10-minute exercise segments


For more information on headaches and pain relief, visit the following sites:


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