Symptoms of Tension Headaches
by Nancy Hearn, CNC

tension headache

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Common symptoms of tension headaches include muscle contraction, bilateral pain, dull pain, and difficulty sleeping.

The tension or muscle-contraction headache is the most common type of headache. The University of California, San Francisco Health Center reports that 88 percent of women and 68 percent of men get this type of headache. 

Tension headaches are most common in adults and teenagers, but can occur at any age. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) notes that tension-type headaches which occur more than twice a week for several months are considered chronic. 

If the tension headache becomes chronic or severe, consult your health care provider to rule out other underlying disorders. The following are some of the most common symptoms of tension headaches.

Muscle Contraction

A tension headache is almost always associated with tightness in the muscles of the neck and scalp, and occasionally the face. According to NIH, this type of muscle contraction is often caused by anxiety or stress. 

In addition, eyestrain or holding the head in one position for a long time, such as working on the computer or stooping over a microscope, can cause a tension headache.

Bilateral Pain

Tension headache pain occurs on both sides of the head, or bilateral, rather than on one side of the head or in one specific area. It often begins in the temples, forehead or back of the head and is also felt in the back of the neck and shoulders, according to NIH.

Dull Pain

The pain of a tension headache feels like dull pressure rather than throbbing pain. People often describe the pain as band-like or vise-like. 

However, the pain can range from mild to severe in intensity. For this reason, patients with tension headaches may be misdiagnosed with a migraine. NIH also notes that a migraine headache can occur at the same time as a tension headache.

Difficulty Sleeping

A typical response to tension headache is the inability to sleep. Many people will have difficulty getting to sleep, struggle with restlessness or wake up without feeling rested. 

According to NIH, sleeping with the neck in the wrong position or sleeping in a cold room can cause the muscle tightness associated with a tension headache.


UCSF Medical Center: Tension Headache: Signs and Symptoms 

NIH: Tension Headache 

Further reading . . . .

Dehydration Causes Stress – And Stress Can Cause Further Stress

Return from Symptoms of Tension Headaches to Health Benefits of Drinking Water

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