Tension Headache

  • Medical Author:
    Danette C. Taylor, DO, MS, FACN

    Dr. Taylor has a passion for treating patients as individuals. In practice since 1994, she has a wide range of experience in treating patients with many types of movement disorders and dementias. In addition to patient care, she is actively involved in the training of residents and medical students, and has been both primary and secondary investigator in numerous research studies through the years. She is a Clinical Assistant Professor at Michigan State University's College of Osteopathic Medicine (Department of Neurology and Ophthalmology). She graduated with a BS degree from Alma College, and an MS (biomechanics) from Michigan State University. She received her medical degree from Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine. Her internship and residency were completed at Botsford General Hospital. Additionally, she completed a fellowship in movement disorders with Dr. Peter LeWitt. She has been named a fellow of the American College of Neuropsychiatrists. She is board-certified in neurology by the American Osteopathic Board of Neurology and Psychiatry. She has authored several articles and lectured extensively; she continues to write questions for two national medical boards. Dr. Taylor is a member of the Medical and Scientific Advisory Council (MSAC) of the Alzheimer's Association of Michigan, and is a reviewer for the journal Clinical Neuropharmacology.

  • Medical Editor: Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

View the Headache and Migraine Triggers Slideshow

Tension Headache Symptoms: Neck Pain

Pain in the neck can be more than just a hassle. Neck pain can come from disorders and diseases of any structure in the neck. There are seven vertebrae that are the bony building blocks of the spine in the neck (the cervical vertebrae) that surround the spinal cord and canal. Between these vertebrae are discs and nearby pass the nerves of the neck. Within the neck, structures include the neck muscles, arteries, veins, lymph glands, thyroid gland, parathyroid glands, esophagus, larynx, and trachea. Disease of any of these structures can lead to neck pain.

Neck pain is medically referred to as cervicalgia. Neck pain can be associated with:

  • headaches,
  • tingling in the arms,
  • muscle pain,
  • fever,
  • stiff neck,
  • throat pain,
  • tenderness,
  • weakness of the arms.

Tension headache facts

  • Tension headache is thought to be one of the most common types of headache.
  • Although the precise cause of tension headache is unknown, there are factors that seem to contribute to tension headaches, such as
  • Different conditions may contribute to tension headaches such as vision problems or eye strain, overexertion, muscle strains caused by poor posture have all been associated with development of tension headache.
  • While certain foods (processed or aged foods, chocolate, red wine) can trigger migraine headache, in some cases head and neck movement or physical exertion might trigger a migraine; this is not typical of tension headache.
  • Some individuals have both migraine and tension headache; additionally, tension headache can trigger migraine pain, and may be relieved by migraine medications. Symptoms of migraine include
    • light and sound sensitivity,
    • nausea or
    • vomiting, and
    • (often one-sided) throbbing head pain which worsens with exertion
  • Both tension headaches and migraines are diagnosed by physical examination and headache history of the patient.
  • Treatments for tension headaches can include OTC and prescription pain relievers, exercise (including formal physical therapy), stress management and relaxation techniques, and alternative therapies.

What is a tension headache?

Headache -- a condition so common it's the punch line for a number of jokes, but when you're experiencing a headache, it's no laughing matter.

When most people discuss headache, they're typically referring to the most frequently experienced type of headache, a tension headache (also known as tension-type or stress headache). Almost half of adults experienced a headache in the past year; fortunately, for the majority of those individuals, the headache was mild, short-lived, and likely fell into the category of tension headache.

Children and teens can experience tension headache; with a significant percentage of children having experienced tension headache by age 15. Females are often diagnosed with tension headaches (more often, about twice as often) than males.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 8/10/2016
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