Signs and tests
A headache that is mild to moderate, not accompanied by other symptoms, and responds to home treatment within a few hours may not need further examination or testing, especially if it has occurred in the past.
A tension headache reveals no abnormal findings on a neurological exam. However, tender points (trigger points) in the muscles are often seen in the neck and shoulder areas.
The health care provider should be consulted — to rule out other disorders that can cause headache — if the headache is severe, persistent (does not go away), or if other symptoms are present with the headache.
Headaches that disturb sleep, occur whenever you are active, or that are recurrent or chronic may require examination and treatment by a health care provider.
- The goal is to treat your headache symptoms right away, and to prevent headaches by avoiding or changing your triggers. A key step in doing this involves learning to manage your tension headaches at home by:
- Keeping a headache diary to help you identify your headache triggers. Then you and your doctor can make changes in your lifestyle to reduce the number of headaches you get.
- Learning what to do to relieve a headache when it starts
- Learning how to take your headache medicines the correct way
- Don’t take this medicine too often. Try not to take over-the-counter drugs more than 3 times a week, because you may get rebound headaches. These are different from tension headaches. They are usually triggered after pain medicine has worn off, prompting you to take another dose. After a while, you get a headache whenever you stop taking the medicine.
You may be able to prevent or reduce tension headaches by learning what causes your headaches and trying to avoid those triggers. For more information, see Living With Tension Headaches.
How you think can affect how you feel. So finding ways to relax and think in a positive way may help prevent headaches.
You may want to try:
- Positive thinking techniques.
- Progressive muscle relaxation.
- Ways to manage your time.
- Breathing exercises.
- Guided imagery.
- Massage and Aromatherapy
An excellent way to relieve the pain of a tension headache is through massage. Gently use your fingertips to massage the muscles in your neck, head, and shoulders. Some headache sufferers find that massaging their temples helps to relieve the pain. You can do this yourself or have someone else massage the area for you.
Herb-infused massage oils may give you the additional benefit of aromatherapy to ease your headache pain. Some of the favorite and most effective oil scents to use for headache relief include:
- Temperature-Based Relief
Coupling aromatherapy with temperature-based remedies can also help. For many people, a cool cloth or an ice pack can help relieve a tension headache. For others, a hot compress, a bath, or a soothing cup of herbal tea does the trick. Alternating between warm and cold is another option.
If your stress headache is related to vascular problems, you can also try soaking your hands in hot water infused with essential oils.
Deep breathing is an effective technique for relieving a tension headache when you first feel it beginning, according to Dr. Mark Wiley. When you are under stress, you may take shallower breaths, depriving your brain of oxygen.
Try this exercise to breathe more deeply and help you headache:
- Stand up or lie down flat.
- Take a deep breath, concentrating on breathing from your abdomen.
- Hold the breath for a few seconds, and then exhale.
- Repeat several times.
- Relaxation Techniques
Since most tension headaches result from high stress levels, finding a way to relax can help alleviate your symptoms. Listening to music and visualizing harmonious and relaxing images. You can also try the following techniques:
- Take a short ten-minute walk outside and breathe deeply while walking.
- Find a quiet place to relax and meditate.
- Take a hot shower, allowing the water to flow over your neck and back for several minutes.
- Soak in a hot tub.
- Stretch the muscles in your neck by gently rolling your head.
- Lie down for a short nap