Tension headaches are the most common form of headaches. However, many adults are unaware of how to minimize their discomfort and avoid more serious health issues.
About 70% of adults experience tension headaches, according to the World Health Organization. For most, these events are relatively brief and mild, but they can become chronic and disabling for about 1% to 3% of patients.
If you notice a pain that starts at the back of your head and moves forward or you feel like a tight band is squeezing your forehead, you’re probably having a tension headache. Try these suggestions for preventing and treating your symptoms.
Preventing Tension Headaches
1. Manage stress. Stress causes headaches, and headaches cause more stress. Break the cycle by learning to relax with yoga, meditation, a long walk, or a warm bath.
2. Adjust your position. Another common cause is staying still too long working online or watching TV. Schedule a break each half hour to move around. Check that you’re sitting up straight.
3. Avoid overexertion. On the other hand, overdoing it at the gym can also bring on a headache. Increase the intensity of your workouts gradually, especially if you’ve been sedentary for a while.
4. Prepare for sleep. Late nights and cold bedrooms can make your head hurt. Go to bed at the same time each night and set your thermostat around 65 to 70 degrees.
5. Eat a snack. Skipping meals is another culprit. Munch on hummus and carrots or have a cup of yogurt before you start feeling too hungry.
6. Limit alcohol and caffeine. Consume alcohol and caffeine in moderation. That means about one cocktail a day for women and two for men.
7. Identify trigger foods. Many common foods have been associated with headaches including chocolate, cheese, and nuts. See if you can find relief by switching to more soy products like tofu, edamame, and soy milk.
8. Drink water. It’s also important to stay hydrated. Carry around a water bottle you can sip from anytime.
9. Understand hormones. Women are more likely to have tension headaches, and menopause and menstrual periods can aggravate the symptoms. Use a calendar to see if you can find a pattern.
10. Quit smoking. Nicotine worsens any headache by narrowing blood vessels and stimulating nerves. It’s one more good reason to give up cigarettes.
Treating Tension Headaches
1. Take medication responsibly. For frequent and severe headaches, your doctor can give you a full screening so you can minimize the unwanted side effects of relying on pain relievers. You may also be able to find substitutes for any drugs that could be contributing to your headaches.
2. Apply heat or ice. Heat or ice packs provide safe and effective relief for many pains. Place a hot or cold pad anywhere you feel tension, including your forehead, neck, shoulders or jaw.
3. Try herbs. Some modern studies have found promising results from traditional approaches like rubbing peppermint oil or tiger balm on your forehead. Let your doctor know about any herbs you’re taking in case they could affect your treatment.
4. Monitor other conditions. Many other health issues, like arthritis and asthma, can aggravate headaches. Your health team can provide recommendations for your individual needs.
5. Keep a diary. Tracking your headaches can help you to understand your symptoms and explain them to your doctor. Write down when they occur, the intensity, and what you were doing at the time.
Tension headaches and the overuse of medication can interfere with your health and ability to enjoy life. Try relaxing and adjusting your daily routine, and talk with your doctor if you need more assistance.