Persistent head and neck pain.
A dull, achy sensation all over the head.
A persistent ache behind the eyes.
A painful scalp.
A rubber band pulled tight around the head.
These are just a few of the ways people describe their tension headaches.
A tension headache is the most common type of headache, and regular sufferers report experiencing them 1-2 times per month, on average. Typically, tension headache pain ranges from mild to moderate, but occasionally, can be much more severe.
What causes tension headaches, how do they differ from Migraines, and most importantly, how can you relieve your pain— without the use of drugs?
When tension headache pain is intense, it can sometimes be confused with a migraine headache, which is characterized by throbbing pain on one or both sides of the head. A distinguishing factor is tension headaches don’t have all the symptoms of migraines, such as nausea and vomiting, although the pain can be just as debilitating.
The Cleveland Clinic found that chronic tension headaches affect about 3% of the U.S. population, including headache episodes that last 15 days or more per month. Women are twice as likely as men to experience tension headaches.
What Causes Tension Headaches?
The most common cause of tension headaches is subluxations that result in upper back and neck pain, usually in conjunction with active trigger points. Sometimes the top cervical vertebrae lose its healthy sense of motion, leading to painful muscle spasms.
From environmental triggers to dietary sensitivities to emotional stressors, any combination of factors may be causing the muscles in your head and neck to spasm. For example, if you sit at a desk all day, spend significant amounts of time on your smartphone, or you’ve suffered from whiplash in the past, you may be more susceptible to tension headaches.
Triggers for tension headaches may also include:
- Cold temperatures.
- Alcohol and smoking.
- The eye strain and dry eyes that come with staring at a computer screen for a long time.
- A cold, flu, or sinus infection.
- Poor posture.
How To Treat a Tension Headache
To ease their pain and discomfort, many tension headache sufferers turn to over-the-counter (OTC) medications like ibuprofen or aspirin, prescription painkillers, and even muscle relaxants.
However, the Mayo Clinic found that frequent use of medications, particularly OTC medications, may make your headaches worse in the long run. The dreaded “rebound headaches” often strike when you’ve become so accustomed to medicine that you experience additional pain as the drugs wear off. You’ll need to take more medication to find relief, and the cycle begins again.
In the end, medications will always fall short as they attempt to treat the symptoms of tension headaches, but never address the cause.
Getting To The Root Cause of Your Tension Headaches
Chiropractic care for tension headaches is based on a deep understanding of how the spine relates to discomfort and pain in other areas of your body. In-office treatment generally includes using gentle pressure to realign the vertebrae and spine to bring on-the-spot relief from both pain and tension.
Your ongoing treatment plan takes all parts of your lifestyle and health history into account, including recommendations regarding nutrition, stress management, posture, ergonomics, vitamins, specific exercises and relaxation techniques. It’s all customized to address your tension and pain; no two patients are exactly alike, and neither are your headaches.
While researching your tension headaches is always helpful and the convenience of medications might be tempting, there’s no substitute for in-person, holistic chiropractic treatment to address the cause of your pain and remedy the problem.