What Does It Mean When You Get Tension Headaches?

Unfortunately, many people get a headache every now and then. Out of all the types of headaches, tension headaches are hands-down the most common type of headache experienced. Tension headaches feel like a dull ache but you may also have the sensation of having a "tight band" around your head. The pain is often like a gnawing feeling that comes on gradually and it tends to be moderate, not severe. It can also be felt around the neck or shoulders.


With migraine headaches, you could experience sensitivity to light and even vomiting, but with tension headaches you don't get that as much. Also, contrary to migraines, the entire head tends to hurt with tension headaches — not just one side.

You may have guessed from the name that most tension headaches can be caused by stress. When stressed, people tend to have increased muscle tension which, in turn, can bring on tension headaches. So if you regularly suffer from tension headaches, it may be a good time to take a look at what may be causing stress in your life, including emotional, physical, and physiological stress.

How to treat and prevent tension headaches

When you have a tension headache, the best course of treatment is to take an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), Ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin), or Naproxen sodium (Aleve). Be careful not to make it a habit though as these medications aren't intended for consistent, daily use. In addition, ginger tea and peppermint oil are natural remedies for headaches.


If you're prone to tension headaches, there are small lifestyle modifications you can make to prevent them. Avoiding what triggers them is the first step. Besides stress, common triggers include eye strain and insomnia, according to Cleveland Clinic. If you have to be on the computer for hours each day, take short breaks from looking at the screen several times throughout the day. 

As with most things, moderation is key and balancing all areas of life, especially eating, moving, and sleeping is one of the best things you can do. Simple things like cutting back on some foods can help headaches. Eating healthy meals and snacks on time, keeping hydrated, doing some type of movement each day, and getting a good night's sleep are recommended for tension headaches. Meditation, yoga, and massage therapy can also help keep tension headaches at bay, the Cleveland Clinic noted.


Though tension headaches can be frustrating, they don't usually have serious health consequences. Be sure to consult your doctor if your pain persists.