Tension Headaches: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment

Nagging pain from tension headaches can bring your day to a grinding halt. Join Airrosti’s Dr. Crisp to learn more about the causes of tension headaches and watch as he demonstrates some simple exercises you can do to reduce postural stress and relieve associated pain.


Chronic headaches can be debilitating and interrupt your day-to-day life. They bring on a dull, constant pain that can make your head feel as if it’s gripped in a tight band. Muscles in the scalp and neck may feel knotted and sensitive to the touch. A common source of this pain is muscle tension in the neck and shoulders that may be caused by stress, poor posture, and other lifestyle factors.

This tension headache, also known as a stress headache, is a common type of pain that often occurs on both sides of the head. This pain can either be brief and infrequent or enduring and chronic. More severe cases are commonly misdiagnosed as migraines or sinus headaches.


Tension headaches are divided into two main categories — episodic and chronic. Episodic tension headaches can last from 30 minutes to a week. If your headaches appear 15 or more days a month for at least three months, they’re considered chronic tension headaches.

Signs and symptoms of a tension headache include:

  • Dull head pain
  • Tight, band-like pressure around the skull
  • Sensitivity in the shoulders, head, and neck
  • Pain is worse in the scalp, temples, and back of the neck
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Irritability


Although both conditions affect the head, tension headaches and migraines are completely different and will require different treatment methods. While tension-type headaches cause a dull head pain that isn’t typically localized, a migraine can cause intense throbbing or pulsing sensations that only affect one side of the head. This painful sensation is often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and extreme sensitivity to light and sound. Many individuals who suffer from migraine attacks also experience an aura or loss of vision shortly before the migraine occurs.


Tension headaches are extremely common and generally caused by tightened muscles in the scalp, neck, and shoulders. There are a few risk factors that could influence their severity and frequency. Some of these risk factors include:

  • Alcohol consumption
  • Smoking
  • Eye strain
  • Dental problems such as jaw clenching
  • Stress and fatigue


There are several conservative methods to treat tension headaches. If it’s a mild, infrequent pain, you might find relief by rubbing your temples or massaging your scalp. You can also try taking a hot bath to relax your muscles and destress. Sometimes applying a hot or cold compress can also fix the problem. Unfortunately, for chronic or severe pain, a scalp massage may only be a temporary fix.

Other familiar treatments for this type of head pain include over-the-counter medications, muscle relaxants, behavior therapies to reduce stress, and acupuncture. Occasionally your doctor will also recommend taking supplements like Magnesium and Vitamin B-12.

These conventional treatments may help relieve your symptoms, but they don’t address the root cause of the problem.


Unlike treatments that only focus on the symptoms, Airrosti aims to help eliminate pain at its source. Our providers will conduct a thorough evaluation to target and eliminate the true cause of your pain with a hands-on, manual therapy approach, combined with an exercise plan to strengthen your body and prevent future pain. Airrosti can resolve most cases in an average of three visits, based on patient-reported outcomes, while reducing recovery time and keeping you active.

If an injury or pain is taking the reins of your life, schedule an appointment with Airrosti, and get back to doing the things you love most, pain free.



Reviewed by Casey Crisp, Doctor of Chiropractic

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