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Tension Headache

What Is a Tension Headache?

A tension headache involves pain, pressure or tightness in your head, scalp or neck. Tense neck and scalp muscles can trigger a tension headache. Your muscles may contract if you’re stressed, sad or anxious, or endure a trauma such as a head injury.

Causes of tension headaches can include:

  • Holding your head in one position for a long time
  • Sleeping in a cold room
  • Sleeping with your neck in an awkward position
  • Physical or emotional stress
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Food sensitivities
  • Caffeine use or withdrawal
  • Colds, flu or sinus infections
  • Teeth-grinding or jaw-clenching
  • Eyestrain
  • Smoking
  • Fatigue


Tension headache symptoms vary. A headache may occur once, constantly or daily. Stress, fatigue, noise or glare can trigger or worsen it.

Headache symptoms include:

  • Dull pressure
  • Feeling like you have a tight band around your head
  • Pressure from all sides
  • Pressure in scalp, temples, shoulders or in the back of your neck
  • Difficulty sleeping

Life-Threatening Brain Disorder Symptoms

Call 911 if you have:

  • Abrupt, severe headache
  • Unbearable pain
  • High fever
  • Balance loss
  • Speech, vision or movement problems
  • Sudden headache
  • Vomiting

Treatment Options

Mild to moderate tension headaches may stop without treatment. Tell your doctor about changes in headache patterns or pain.

Chronic (long-term) headaches can interfere with life and work. Treatment focuses on relieving symptoms and preventing triggers.

These steps may help:

  • Track headache triggers so you can avoid or manage them.
  • Tell your doctor about patterns or suspected triggers.
  • Consider exercises, meditation or biofeedback to relax muscles and manage stress.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy can help identify and manage causes.
  • Massage sore muscles and consider seeing a massage therapist.
  • A physical therapist can help with exercises or adjustments to work stations and daily activities.
  • Keep warm if cold temperatures trigger headaches.
  • Change your sleeping positions, pillow or posture.
  • Practice good posture when reading, working or doing other activities.
  • Exercise your neck and shoulders – especially when using electronic devices or doing close or repetitive tasks.

Ready for an Appointment?

If you're experiencing signs or symptoms of a tension headache, schedule an appointment or call 800-TEMPLE-MED (800-836-7536) today.

Learn more about our doctors and care team who diagnose and treat tension headaches.