At Home Care For Tension Headaches Part 1: Causes and Symtoms
Tension headaches are muscular headaches that present themselves in various ways. One of the main reasonings behind this is that the muscles associated with the headache may have activated trigger points.
You may remember from prior posts that trigger points are minor muscle contractions that refer pain to other parts of the body. For this post series we are going to look at primary tension headaches, in which the headache and associated muscular tension is the main cause of the headache itself. The other kind of headache is known as a "secondary headache," in which there is another cause of the headache that may be more severe, such as head trauma.
Depending upon the person, tension headaches can be a rare occurrence, or you may get them daily. Chronic daily headaches can lead to other issues such as decreased range of motion in the head, neck, and shoulders, postural imbalances, troubles sleeping, or secondary headaches from other trigger points being activated after the first ones.
If you experience chronic daily headaches, you may want to look at working together with a physiotherapist to help you make changes and adaptations to the underlying causes of your tension headaches (usually work related).
Causes of Tension Headaches
Tension headaches are generally caused by a muscle's inability to stop firing, which in turn can lead to developing trigger points.
Stress is a main culprit of people's tension headaches. When your body gets stressed out, its fight or fight response can be triggered. A natural part of fight or flight is your muscles tensing to get ready for a quick response. However, in today's culture we tend to not be able to respond to our stresses with fight or flight (imagine responding to your next work stress this way), so your body keeps the tension there expecting you to either fight back or run away.
Desk work is another huge cause of tension headaches. Most of us have to work at a desk from time to time. Even with having two very active positions at both of my businesses, I still have to do hours of desk work each day. When you are forced to sit in the same position for hours on end, you tend to be pulled forward with your posture, causing the muscles along your back and neck to become overstretched. This overstretching forces those muscles to try and contract to get back to a normal state. It puts them in almost a conundrum, where on one hand, they are stretched, yet on the other they are working and contracting to get back to a shorter state.
Another cause of tension headaches can be attributed to our electronics. Computer and phone screens have become so unavoidable that the strain they cause on our eyes has received the name Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS). Whenever we spend excessive time looking at these screens, getting hyperfocused on the tasks we are completing, our eyes tend to blink less. This lack of blinking can lead to our eyes drying out, and also can cause our eyes to not refresh their focus. The tinier a screen we look at, the more our eyes have to strain to focus on the display, and the more strain we place of the muscles around our vision.
Symptoms of a Tension Headache
Tension headaches tend to feel dull or throbbing. If you experience a sharp shooting pain down your back or arm, please consult with your primary care physician. Most people experience their first tension headache in their early adulthood. Tension headaches can last from 30 minutes to weeks depending upon their underlying causes. You may experience muscle tenderness or stiffness, and depending upon the muscles experiencing tension, you may also experience nausea, dizziness, or ringing in your ears.
Factors which can aggravate tension headaches include stress, fatigue, low temperatures, improper posture, and poor nutrition.
Since most people experience a tension headache for the first time in their early years, if you are experiencing your first one after the age of 50, please consult with your primary care physician.
Next: We will look at home treatments you can do to help take care of your tension headaches.
Corinne D. Bracko-Douglas, CMT, LMT, CKTP is the owner of Dochas Clinical Massage Therapy based out of Columbia, MO. She received her diploma in Clinical Massage Therapy from The Soma Institute in Chicago, IL in 2004. She enjoys teaching others about how to live a healthy lifestyle and still works one on one with clients out of her private clinic. When not working as a therapist she can be found enjoying trail hikes with her wonderful husband, Lee, and their adorable doggos, Shadow and Koda, or trying out fun new workouts to expand her knowledge of the human body and how it functions.
The advice given in these articles is not meant to diagnose. Please always consult with a health care provider before performing any of the techniques described upon yourself.