Tension headaches can come up at different times in life. Most sufferers find that they can crop up late in the workday. While the dull pain of a tension headache can be frustrating, they are not often a great threat to your long term health. They can take away from your quality of life, however. If you find that you develop headaches late in your working day, there are activities you can partake in that will reduce the severity of your tension headache. To get control of tension headaches, it may be necessary to keep a journal to track when your headaches crop up. Knowing your triggers and the signs that a tension headache is coming can help you to better control the condition.
Signs of a Coming Tension Headache
Many people who suffer from tension headaches feel them starting up with skin tenderness. This increased sensitivity can show up as tenderness in the muscles and skin across your shoulders, up the back of your neck and over the top of your head. You may also feel a tightening of the tissue around your head starting at the forehead and wrapping around your entire skull. It's important to note the differences between migraines and tension headaches. A migraine often includes light sensitivity and is made worse by light and noise. A tension headache can actually be made better by gentle exercises and stretching, and light will not add to your misery. When you feel the tenderness or "bunching up" of the muscles across your back and neck, you may be able to hold off the pain of a tension headache by stretching, hydrating, or pre-dosing with an over the counter pain medication.
Causes of Tension Headaches
The primary cause of tension headaches is stress. There are current indications that those who suffer from regular tension headaches have a higher sensitivity to pain. It was once believed that muscular tension contributed to more intense or frequent tension headaches, but the latest research indicates that it is the increased pain sensitivity that contributes to that muscular tension. Because one of the common factors for nearly all tension headaches includes a slow onset, being aware of the coming headache and acting immediately is critical. There are factors other than tension that can boost your risk of headache, including
- Lack of sleep
- Excess caffeine use
- Poor stress management techniques
If your headache is uneven, includes light sensitivity and nausea, or is paired with any facial drooping, it is probably not a tension headache and you should seek medical attention.
Treating Tension Headaches
The critical step in treating a tension headache is to stop the slow build-up before it becomes a full-blown headache. When you notice the muscles tensing or a tightening across your scalp, you need to get up, get some water, and stretch your upper body. You may need to take a walk or get some fresh air. If you are used to having coffee late in the day, try to wean yourself off it. Coffee or similar drinks after lunch can cut into the quality of your sleep later in the day, and poor sleep quality can increase your risk of tension headaches. If you find that you are too sleepy to do what you need to do late in the day, consider a quick conversation with a friend or look for something that will lift your spirits and tickle your funny bone. Hearty laughter is mood-increasing and energy-boosting that won't limit your sleep later.