Do you have a headache in the back of your head? Does it feel like the muscles of your neck and scalp are tight and full of tension? Maybe you even feel like your head is being squeezed? You probably have a tension headache, commonly referred to as a stress headache.
Although tension headaches usually don’t indicate any serious medical issues, they can still be annoying, painful, and keep you from enjoying life as much as you should. For teens, tension headaches can be an issue because they can keep you from doing your best in school and extracurriculars. In this article, we’ll go over exactly what tension headaches are, their causes and symptoms, and various treatment options including ways to lower stress, such as online therapy. We’ll also discuss which headache pain symptoms indicate that you should see a doctor.
Tension headaches are one of the most common types of headache, along with primary headaches, and they occur in about 75% to 80% of the adult population. In addition, about 75% of teens have experienced a headache by age 15. This tension type headache generally results from emotional stress. Tension headaches are characterized by a squeezing, dull pain on the sides and back of the head, and they typically last anywhere from 20 minutes to a couple of hours.
Below you’ll find all the details relating to the symptoms, potential causes, treatment options, and preventive measures for tension headaches.
The list of symptoms associated with tension headaches is a short one: dull, non-throbbing pain and tightness of the scalp and stiff neck. Those who experience persistent headaches may also have some nausea. Sometimes, tension headaches are accompanied by irritability, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, muscle aches, and mild sensitivity to light and noise.
As far as causes go, there are many! Causes of tension headaches tend to include:
Most tension or stress headaches can be treated at home. Rest and over-the-counter pain relief medication such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen (aspirin shouldn’t be taken by teens under the age of 15) are often enough to make a tension headache go away. In some cases, you might want to use an ice pack or a muscle relaxant to release the tension. Caffeine can be helpful, too.
Gentle yoga is also a good way to treat tension headaches. With its focus on deep breathing, relaxation, and stretching the muscles, it can release the tension in your head and neck. There are many online yoga flows specifically focused on neck tension and immediate relief from headaches. Plus, once you’ve gone through a couple of these yoga stretches, you’ll have a tool you can come back to time and again. Often, these types of stretches are very simple and can be done anywhere, anytime, so you’ll have a way to handle tension headaches even if you’re at school or work.
To prevent tension headaches, it’s important to have healthy ways to handle stress. Rather than binge-watching Netflix or turning to food, there are better methods you can use to reduce your stress levels. Engaging with your creativity by drawing, painting, writing, journaling, or otherwise creating can be a wonderful way to decrease stress. You can also spend time with friends, family, and pets. Exercise, even if just a short walk around the block, also lowers stress levels. Hobbies like hiking, fishing, and martial arts are just a few more awesome choices for stress relief.
If you struggle to maintain healthy stress levels and frequently find yourself feeling overwhelmed, it may be wise to speak with a therapist. You could talk to your therapist at school or set up an appointment with a local mental health professional. There are also plenty of options for online therapy. A therapist can help you get to the root of the issue, and they’ll also have plenty of suggestions for stress management and coping skills. Seeing a therapist isn’t anything to be ashamed of, and it can help you in many areas of life.
Living a healthy lifestyle can help quite a bit with most headaches as well. A healthy lifestyle involves fueling your body with healthy food, drinking plenty of water, exercising daily, and getting sufficient sleep each night. Relaxation techniques and biofeedback can be effective in preventing tension or stress headaches, too. Finally, since eye strain from looking at screens can lead to tension headaches, be sure to look away from screens every 20 minutes or take a longer break from screen time if possible.
Pain in the back of your head that worsens when you lay down can be caused by cluster headaches, or headaches that occur in frequent clusters. Here are some of the other symptoms of cluster headaches:
A doctor should treat cluster headaches because they typically need stronger medication rather than simpler over-the-counter solutions. Typical treatment for cluster headaches includes triptans, local anesthetics, and octreotide. Prevention often involves melatonin, nerve blockers, and corticosteroids. Always speak to your doctor before beginning any medications.
Some other, more serious headaches to look out for include occipital neuralgia or occipital nerves headaches, medication overuse headaches, sinus headaches, migraine headaches, and headaches originating in the spinal cord. These headaches can have neurological symptoms and severe pain behind the eyes and may need physical therapy.
For most tension headaches and headaches in general, it’s not necessary to see a doctor. However, in the following situations, you should speak to a medical professional.
Doctors will often prescribe indomethacin, ketoprofen, ketorolac, or naproxen for tension headaches that aren't relieved by over-the-counter medications like a migraine headache. Of course, always speak with your doctor before starting any new medications, and be sure to discuss any potential side effects.
You should call 911 or visit the emergency room if:
It’s a good idea to speak to a therapist if you’re plagued by tension headaches resulting from emotional stress. BetterHelp is one great option for adults aged 18+ and TeenCounseling is a great option for teens aged 13-19. They are both online counseling platforms that match you with a certified therapist. You can communicate with them through messages, phone calls, or video sessions. A therapist, whether in person or online, can help you work through your stress and find effective ways to cope with and manage it.
“My son enjoyed working with Ryan. His friendly demeanor helped my son open up easily and learn affective and healthy coping strategies for stress. I recommend Ryan to anyone who is feeling overwhelmed and needs to get centered.”
Common questions found below:
How do you get rid of tension headaches?
How long do tension headaches last?
What triggers a tension headache?
Can tension headaches damage your brain?
How long do headaches last with Covid?
Where is tension headache located?
Where do you massage for a tension headache?
Why am I getting tension headaches everyday?
What are the 4 types of headaches?
Are daily headaches normal?
Daily headaches aren’t considered normal, but there are several reasons you may be getting headaches every day. Environmental and lifestyle factors can play a large role. For example, headaches can be caused by certain medications, lack of sleep, caffeine consumption, stress, and even changes in weather. If you’re experiencing headaches on a daily basis, it’s a good idea to speak with your doctor and rule out more serious health issues.
If you’ve been experiencing daily headaches for a while, you may have chronic daily headaches. These are characterized by headaches that occur at least 15 days out of the month, have taken place for more than three consecutive months, and cannot be explained by any other medical issue. A few ways to prevent headaches include avoiding triggers, getting plenty of sleep and regular exercise, and reducing stress and caffeine.
Why am I getting tension headaches everyday?
Tension headaches, or stress headaches, are the most common type of headache among adults and teenagers. They can be caused by tight muscles in your neck and scalp, as well as stress, hunger, caffeine and alcohol consumption, low iron levels, eye strain, dehydration, and smoking, among other factors. Of the 80% of adults that get tension headaches from time to time, 3% have chronic daily tension headaches. If you have frequent or severe headaches, or if your headaches are having a negative effect on your daily life, be sure to see your doctor.
What relieves tension headaches?
There are many ways to relieve tension headaches, from preventive measures to home remedies to medication. There are even some options within the field of alternative medicine that can be helpful as well. Over-the-counter pain relievers are one option for tension headaches, but be sure to speak to your doctor before starting any kind of medication. Your doctor may also prescribe a stronger medication. In some cases, antidepressants, anticonvulsants, and muscle relaxants can be used for tension headaches as well.
As far as home remedies and lifestyle changes go, reducing your stress levels can work wonders for tension headaches. Drinking plenty of water, eating healthily, and getting sufficient sleep each night can also improve headaches. Applying ice or heat to the affected area can also provide relief. Maintaining good posture can be helpful for tension headaches because it keeps you from tensing your muscles.
Some alternative medicine options include massage, biofeedback therapy, and acupuncture. These types of therapies typically work by reducing tension in the body, which can then relieve pain from tension headaches.