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What causes tension headaches?

While tension headaches are the most frequently occurring type of headache, their cause is not known. The most likely cause is contraction of the muscles that cover the skull. When the muscles covering the skull are stressed, they may become inflamed, go into spasm, and cause pain. Common sites include the base of the skull where the trapezius muscles of the neck insert, the temples where muscles that move the jaw are located, and the forehead.

There is little research to confirm the exact cause of tension headaches. It is believed that tension headaches occur because of physical stress placed on the body. For example, these stressors can cause the muscles surrounding the skull to clench the teeth and go into spasm. Physical stressors include difficult and prolonged manual labor, or sitting at a desk or computer for long periods of time concentrating. Emotional stress also might cause tension headaches by causing the muscles surrounding the skull to contract.

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See what others are saying

Comment from: singer, 45-54 Female (Patient) Published: May 09

My headaches are triggered when I get the slightest bit upset about anything, mainly worrying about my son. They start in my two neck muscles then crawl up and up; it goes in my ears then my temples and all over my head. The pain is so I cannot stand noise, light, or anything. I can't read watch TV or be bothered to talk pain killers, even the strong ones they have given me; nothing touches it. I've had these headaches every day for the last year since my son moved out of home. I can't even wash and do my hair now but the muscles in the neck go and that's my day destroyed. It stops me from ever leaving the house, I've had physiotherapy for it too.

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Comment from: Linda, 55-64 Female (Patient) Published: December 30

I had sinus headaches in the past which were caused by allergies. Most recently, I started with migraines again but was migraine free for about 15-20 years. I don't know what causes it. They have always occurred at night after 5 and before midnight. First migraine at age 60 after being migraine free for 15-20 years, I went to the emergency room for treatment; I had the usual treatment of a shot for pain and a shot for nausea. I was referred to a primary care physician by the emergency room doctor. She put me on sumatriptan 50 mg. I have had to take it once, one pill, and migraine symptoms of headache and slight nausea resolved. I don't know what has caused me to get migraines again.

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Comment from: sestine, 25-34 Female (Patient) Published: July 10

I have a headache which spreads all over eyebrow bones and forehead. It pains too much and continues for full 8 days. I really don't know what it is, if it is migraine or something else.

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