What is a tension headache? - Caidr
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What is a tension headache?

Written by Caidr's team of doctors and pharmacists based in UK | Updated: 04.04.2022 | 2 min read

A tension headache is the most common type of headache with the majority of people experiencing one at some point in their lives. It is known in medical terms as a primary headache, which means it is not caused by an underlying medical condition. Tension headache is the normal everyday headache that can feel like a constant ache that affects both sides of the head, or a tight band-like headache across the forehead.

It usually lasts from thirty minutes to several hours but some people may experience one ongoing for several days. Tension headaches are not normally severe enough to limit daily activities and respond well to basic pain killers like paracetamol and ibuprofen. You may also experience feelings of tight neck muscles and a feeling of pressure behind the eyes which can be associated.

Causes of tension headaches

The exact cause of tension headaches is unknown, however, there are many known triggers that can be implicated in causing a tension headache to start.

These include stress and anxiety, squinting, poor posture, tiredness, dehydration, missing a meal, bright sunlight, noise and certain smells.


Tension headaches are not life-threatening and can be treated with simple pain killers and lifestyle changes.

Relaxation techniques can help with stress or emotion-related headaches. This can include yoga, message, exercise and applying a cool flannel to your forehead, or a warm flannel to the back of your neck.

When it comes to medication, paracetamol or ibuprofen can be very effective either on their own or in combination. However, you should not take ibuprofen if you are pregnant or if you have been advised to avoid it.

Taking painkillers over a long period (usually 10 days or more) may also conversely lead to medicine-overuse headaches developing. This happens when your body gets used to the painkiller and when you stop, the headache returns or gets worse.

Prevention of tension headaches

If you experience frequent tension-type headaches, you may wish to keep a diary to try to identify what could be triggering them off. This can help you identify what your triggers are and help you make changes to avoid them.

Regular exercise and relaxation are also important measures to help reduce stress and tension that may be causing headaches.

Maintaining good posture and ensuring you're well-rested and hydrated are always good things to keep your body working well.

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