What Can Trigger Tension Headaches?
Tension headache is a common condition that affects the quality of life of many patients. It can be recurring within a week or even become chronic and happen simultaneously with migraines. If you often experience tension headaches, the best way to lessen or get rid of them is to know your triggers.
As a trusted pain management practice in Charlotte, Advanced Sports & Spine will share the common triggers of tension headaches to help relieve the pain naturally. We also share some non-surgical interventions in case traditional approaches no longer work for you.
What is a tension headache?
Tension headache is a mild to moderate headache that happens from time to time, especially when you are under stress or fatigue. Researchers across the globe are still looking for the exact cause of tension headaches.
According to Harvard Medical School, tension headache comes from muscle contractions in the face, scalp, neck, and shoulders. Other studies, on the other hand, say that tension headaches occur due to the increased sensitivity of a patient to pain and some changes in the chemicals in the brain.
Though it has several possible causes, tension headaches occur normally and do not indicate a serious condition. However, they can affect the daily comfort of patients when tension headaches become more frequent, or worse, chronic. This can happen slowly or suddenly depending on what triggers the pain.
Symptoms of tension headaches
As a common type of headache, Cleveland Clinic mentioned that 2 in 3 adults in the US experience tension-type headaches. The symptoms of tension-type headaches include:
- Dull head pain that lasts for 30 minutes to a week
- Pressure or pain in your forehead
- Mild to moderate pain in the head that is not debilitating but may affect your mood throughout the day
- Tender scalp, neck, and shoulder muscles
What does tension headache pain feel like?
Many patients mistake tension headaches as migraines. What sets migraines apart are other symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and visual issues. The pain pattern in migraines usually involves throbbing pain and affects half of the face. On the other hand, tension headaches affect the forehead and the temples.
Migraines may also cause debilitating pain, causing pressure or headache behind the eye to the lower part of your face. They can also occur along with tension headaches, especially when a patient is under extreme stress. The pain and symptoms involved in a migraine, such as tension behind the eyes, may also be a symptom of other medical conditions like:
- Sinus infection
- Optic neuritis or optic nerve inflammation
- Graves disease
- Aneurysm or rupture of a weakened blood vessel
- Cluster headaches
- Secondary headache to another medical condition
If the pain gets worse and becomes more chronic, consult your doctor immediately. When it comes to health, early detection and intervention can save you from serious medical issues.
What can trigger tension headaches?
To manage your tension headaches, here are some of the common triggers of tension headaches. These factors contribute to muscle tightness and bodily responses that lead to pain.
Lack of rest and sleep
Lack of enough rest and sleep reduces the threshold of our bodies to pain. According to a study, sleep restores and resets our brains. That includes resetting the hypothalamus which contains neurons that modulate pain.
Anxiety and depression
Anxiety and depression have symptoms that are also triggers of tension headaches. Insomnia or lack of sleep and adequate rest leaves the body in survival mode. Muscle tension is also another distinct aspect of anxiety.
In an anxious state, your nervous system shifts to its fight-or-flight response and causes muscle tension to react quickly in a life-threatening situation. As the muscles contract, patients have a higher risk of developing tension headaches.
Tension-type headaches and migraines are both distinctive physical manifestations of depression and anxiety. Patients with these conditions often get relief for their tension-type headaches and migraines through cognitive behavioral therapy.
Jaw and dental problems
Teeth grinding (bruxism) and TMJ problems are also one of the possible causes of tension-type headaches and migraines. When under stress, some patients may tend to unconsciously grind their teeth at night and experience headaches as they wake up. Also, the contraction of facial and joint muscles in TMJ issues can cause pain that radiates from your head to your neck and shoulders.
Our body is about 80% water, and our bodily systems use it to function well and keep us healthy. Our brain, in particular, uses water to provide the hormones and neurotransmitters necessary for the processes in our body. So, inadequate water intake and electrolytes can cause fluid imbalances in the brain that can trigger tension headaches and migraines.
Poor posture can overstretch and weaken your neck muscles over time. Along with repetitive tasks, our muscles will tighten up and lead to spasms. The pain will begin from your shoulder up to your neck until it reaches your head and causes tension headaches. Activities that cause poor posture that leads to headaches include:
- Long hours of looking down at your phone
- Working on your computer or laptop all day
- Long drives without rest
- Extended hours of playing video games
- Sleeping face down
When your body lacks enough fluid and nutrients, you become more at risk for tension or fasting headaches. Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) or blood sugar changes in some patients can alter the pain receptors in their brain and cause tension or fasting headache.
A head injury due to a blow to the head or repetitive shaking of the head or body may cause post-concussive symptoms to a patient. Concussions are mild injuries that can cause several symptoms. Some of these are tension headaches, noise and light sensitivity, and dizziness.
How long does a tension headache last?
Tension headaches can last for 30 minutes to a week. If they occur in less than 15 days within three months, they are considered episodic tension headaches. However, if the headaches go beyond 15 days within three months, they are classified as chronic tension headaches.
How to get rid of tension headache
There are several home remedies that you can do to relieve tension and alleviate your headache. With proper sleep, a balanced diet, heating pads or pain relief patches, and exercise, you may reduce the occurrence or get rid of tension headaches completely. You can also find relief from the following approaches:
- Pain medication
- Physical therapy
- Meditation and yoga
What to do if tension headaches are getting worse or becomes more frequent
In some cases, taking over-the-counter pain medications can lead to rebound headaches as soon as the drug fades off. Some side effects from pain medications can also make the patient’s condition worse.
If the traditional approach to pain management is no longer working for patients, pain specialists like Dr. Ahmad recommend non-surgical pain interventions such as:
- Occipital Nerve Blocks
- Selective Nerve Block (SNRB) Injection
- Trigger Point injections
- Radiofrequency Ablation
Stop living with pain and try a non-opioid solution at Advanced Sports & Spine
Don’t let pain hold you back from enjoying the life that you have. Control or avoid your triggers and learn more about long-term solutions for your tension headaches. Our non-surgical and non-opioid pain management services for tension headaches can help you get off your pain medications and enjoy pain-free days ahead of you.
Schedule an appointment today to learn more about the suitable solution for your condition.