Tension headaches are dull pain, tightness, or pressure around your forehead or the back of your head and neck. Some people say it feels like a clamp squeezing the skull. Often called stress headaches, they’re the most common type for adults.
When you get them less than 15 days per month, they’re called episodic tension headaches. If they happen more often, they’re called chronic.
Up to 80% of adults in the U.S. get them from time to time. About 3% have chronic daily tension headaches. Women are twice as likely to get them as men.
There’s no single cause for them. Most of the time, they’re triggered by stress, whether from work, school, family, friends, or other relationships.
Episodic ones are usually set off by a single stressful situation or a build-up of stress. Daily strain can lead to the chronic kind.
This type of headache doesn’t run in families. Some people get them because of tightened muscles in the back of the neck and scalp. This muscle tension can come from:
- Not enough rest
- Bad posture
- Emotional or mental stress, including depression
- Low iron levels
For others, tightened muscles aren’t part of tension headaches, and there’s no clear cause.
A few common ones are:
- Mild to moderate pain or pressure in the front, top, or sides of the head
- Headache that starts later in the day
- Trouble sleeping
- Feeling very tired
- Trouble focusing
- Mild sensitivity to light or noise
- Muscle aches
For prevention, you can:
- Take medications
- Avoid the causes or triggers
- Manage your stress or learn relaxation techniques
- Practice biofeedback
- Try home remedies, like a hot bath, ice packs, or better posture
Over-the-counter (OTC) painkillers are often the first treatments doctors recommend for tension headaches. People with the chronic kind can use some of these drugs to prevent headaches.