Tension headache is one of the most common types of headaches, if not the most common. It’s also referred to as a stress headache or pressure headache.
Tension headache can cause a lot of discomfort during your work or when going out with friends.
It can really affect your overall happiness.
Fortunately, this type of headache is very well treatable with a series of home remedies and exercises. Usually, you will feel relief within two weeks. You can do all these exercises in the comfort of your own home. You won’t need any pain medication when you’ve completed the treatment.
In this article, I’ll explain precisely what tension headache is, the mechanism behind it, and how you can relieve it yourself.
What is a tension headache
Overused or tense neck muscles produce tension headaches. Is causes radiating pain in your head, like an expanding pressure.
Usually, it travels from your neck, over your head like a cap all the way to your forehead and can cause pain behind your eyes.
That’s why it’s also referred to as:
- Headache behind the eyes
- Stress headache
- Forehead headache
- Pressure headache
The International Headache Society created a list with several criteria to recognize tension headache by:
- Last for hours, days or constant
- Felt on both sides of your head
- Feels like a pressure on your head but not pulsating
- Mild pain intensity
- Not increasing during physical activities
- No nausea
- No light intolerance
When you recognize these symptoms, you likely suffer from a tension headache.
Now it’s time to discuss the causes of tension headache.
Tension headache causes
Stress is the leading cause of tension headaches. When you suffer from stress, your muscles tend to tighten and become stiffer. That’s when they cause radiating pain in your head.
Also, muscle weakness can cause tightening of the muscles due to overuse. When they have to work harder then they can, the muscles in your neck and shoulders become tight as well.
The last possible cause for tension headache is a forward head position. Research shows that people with a forward head position are more likely to develop tension headache than those who don’t.
The last tension headache cause is a stiff neck. A stiff neck can cause muscles to tighten, whereas tight muscles can also cause a stiff neck. It can become a vicious cycle.
The reason these tense muscles cause pain in your forehead is that the nerves that serve the front of your head and those that serve the muscles in your neck connect at the same segment in your spinal cord. What we think happens then is that your brain has a hard time to figure out where the pain comes from. That’s when it misinterprets the signal and lets you feel it in the wrong place. It’s the basics of referred pain. It is why neck pain can cause pain in your forehead.
To treat your tension headache correctly, we have to tackle all the possible tension headache causes.
Tension headache treatment with 5 exercises and home remedies
Research shows that physical therapy is effective for the treatment of all types of headaches, including tension headache.
The first thing you have to do is to reduce your stress. When your stress disappears, the following exercises will be much more effective.
You can use this supplement to reduce your stress, especially when it’s temporary.
Other home remedies to relieve stress you can use are chamomile tea, yoga, meditation, a hot bath, or a long walk in nature.
Also, exercising or doing things you like helps to relieve stress.
Now, let’s start with the exercises:
Tension headache exercise 1: Improve the mobility of your neck
The first exercise you have to do is to improve the mobility of your neck.
When your neck is stiff, your neck muscles have to work harder to move it, which enhances the tension. By improving mobility, your neck muscles have a chance to relax.
Sufficient neck mobility is also essential for improving your posture, which I’ll discuss later.
Perform the exercise like this:
Wrap a towel around your neck
- Take with your left hand the right side of the towel and with your right hand the left side
- Now lift the hand that is in front up until the towel is at the same height as your cheek
- Now pull with your arm and the towel your head in the full rotation to the side
- Repeat this ten times and then change to the opposite side by changing your hands
- Finally, grasp the towel normal and lift your arms and look up at the same time
You can also see how to perform the exercise in this video.
Perform this exercise twice a day. Rotate your neck as far as you can. It might hurt at first, but that’s no problem. You will feel it improve within days.
Together with the mobility of your neck, you’ll also have to improve the mobility of your upper back.
Tension headache exercise 2: Improve the mobility of your upper back
The second exercise you have to do is improve the mobility of your upper back. You’ll need a flexible upper back to be able to maintain a posture that doesn’t aggravate your tension headache.
To perform this exercise, you’ll have to buy this back stretcher.
By laying over this back stretcher. You’ll feel that your spine stretches and loosens up. You can also use it to stretch your lower back.
Lay down on it for about 20 minutes and several times a day. You’ll feel a significant difference within a week or so.
When your neck and upper back are mobile enough, its time to work on a posture that doesn’t tense up your neck muscles.
Tension headache exercise 3: Improve your posture
As mentioned before, a forward head posture is a factor that has to be treated to reduce your tension headache.
It’s relatively easy to improve your posture when sitting or walking.
All you have to do is stretch up your chest and pull in your chin.
Hold this position for 30 seconds and repeat it several times a day. You can see the difference in posture in the picture below.
As you can see, in the left picture, my head is in front of my body. Gravity pulls my head towards the ground in this position. Therefore, my neck muscles have to work hard all the time preventing this. It makes them tired and causes them to tense up. It increases the tension and therefore the pain.
In the right picture, my head is in line with my body and resting on my neck. Now gravity pulls it firmly on my neck, and my muscles don’t have to do much.
It’s a posture that can be maintained for an extended period without much muscle activity. It’s a critical element of treating your tension headache.
But to be able to maintain this position, you’ll have to the train specific muscles in your neck that pull om your chin in.
Also, make sure your work place it set up correctly.
That’s what the next exercise is for.
Tension headache exercise 4: Training your deep neck muscles
At the front of your neck, you have muscles that pull your head down. When you pull your chin in, you need these muscles to keep your head straight. They are referred to as the deep neck flexors.
Usually, these muscles are weak because of your forward head position. You’ll have to train them to be able to maintain the posture you need to treat your tension headache.
Perform the exercise like this:
- Lay down on your back
- Pull your chin in as far as you can and hold this position
- Now lift your head about 2 cm (1 inch) with your chin pulled in
- Hold this as long as you can
- Repeat this five times.
You can also see how to perform the exercise in the picture below.
When performing this exercise, you’ll notice that you can’t keep your chin pulled in. That’s when you failed the exercise and have to rest for the second repetition.
You should be able to hold the position about 15-20 seconds after training for a few weeks. In the beginning, some people can’t hold the position longer than 5 seconds. That’s no problem, just work your way up.
Tension headache exercise 5: Stretch your neck muscles
The last exercise you have to perform is to stretch your tense neck muscles. These muscles run from your shoulders to the back of your head and are called your trapezius muscles.
Perform the exercise like this:
- Place your hand on your head
- Pull your head sideways
- Also, rotate your head to the same side until you feel the maximum stretch
- Hold this position for 20 seconds
- Repeat three times on both sides
You can see how to perform the exercise in this video.
Perform the exercise twice a day. When the tension of these muscles reduces, you’ll also experience fewer headaches.
As you can see, with a few simple exercises, you can treat your tension headache yourself. When you have any more questions after reading this article, feel free to send me an e-mail.
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