"Tension-type" headaches are the most common type of headaches among adults. They used to be commonly referred to as muscle contraction headaches or stress headaches, but these old terms have been abandoned. A chronic tension-type headache means that you have a tension-type headache on most days, or on every day. The cause is not clear in most cases.
What Causes Tension-type Headaches?
There is no single cause for tension-type headaches. This type of headache syndrome is not a trait that runs in families. In some people, tension-type headaches are associated with tightened muscles in the back of the neck and scalp. This muscle tension may be exacerbated by:
- Inadequate rest
- Poor posture
- Emotional or mental stress, including depression
Tension-type headaches can be triggered by some type of environmental or internal stress. This stress may be known (overt) or unknown (covert) to the patient and their family. The most common sources of stress include family, social relationships, friends, work, and school. Examples of stressors include:
- Having problems at home
- Having a new child
- Having no close friends
- Returning to school or training; preparing for tests or exams
- Going on vacation
- Starting a new job
- Losing a job
- Being overweight
- Deadlines at work
- Competing in sports or other activities
- Being a perfectionist
- Not getting enough sleep
- Being over-extended; involved in too many activities/organizations.
What are the Symptoms of Each Tension-type Headache?
Typically, the pain is like tightness around the hat-band area. Some people feel a squeezing or pressure on their head. It usually occurs on both sides of your head, and often spreads down your neck, or seems to come from your neck. Sometimes it is just on one side. The pain is usually moderate or mild, but sometimes it is severe.
- A tension-type headache can last from 30 minutes to 7 days. Most last a few hours
- The headache usually comes on during the day, and gets worse as the day goes on
- There are usually no other symptoms. Some people don't like bright lights or loud noises, and don't feel like eating much when they have a tension-type headache
- The headaches you have with chronic tension-type headache are the same as described above, but occur frequently. In some cases, the headache seems to be permanent, and hardly ever goes, or only eases off but never goes away completely
- Many people with chronic tension-type headache put up with their headaches without seeing a doctor. In one study, two-thirds of people diagnosed with chronic tension-type headache had had daily or near daily headache for an average of seven years before consulting a doctor. Most continued to function at work or school, but their performance was often not as good as it could be. Almost half had anxiety or depression, possibly as a result of coping with their frequent headaches
If you think you have chronic tension-type headache, it is best to see a doctor, as treatment can often help.
Read more articles on Tension Headaches.