8 Causes Of Tension Headaches – And How To Beat Them

Tension-type headaches are what most of us are referring to when we talk about having a headache. Symptoms include a constant ache on both sides of the head, a “band-like” sensation of tightness around the head, a tight neck and pressure behind the eyes.

Tension headaches are caused by tender neck and head muscles. These muscles tend to tighten when we come under physical or psychological stress. Tension headaches usually last for between 30 minutes and several hours, but may last for up to 7 days.

Most people suffer from occasional tension headaches, but up to 1 in 30 adults suffers from chronic tension headaches. Causes include:

1. Taking Too Many Painkillers

Taking painkillers, such as
ibuprofen, paracetamol and aspirin, more than two or three times a week
can result in headaches. Experts say that once you stop taking
painkillers, the drugs should be out of your system within 10 days and
your headaches should subside as a result.

2. Your Handbag

Many
of us jam our bags full of things we need for the day, but did you know
that your handbag should weigh less than 10 per cent of your body
weight? Carrying excess weight can put your body under stress. If you
wear the same bag on the same shoulder every day, it can put a lot of
strain on your neck and shoulders, which can result in tension
headaches. Using a backpack to take the pressure off your shoulders or
lightening the load of your bag are measures you can take to prevent
these tension headaches.

3. Dehydration or Missing Meals

Try to stay hydrated, and eat small, regular meals or healthy snacks every 3-4 hours. If a headache strikes, try drinking a glass of water (around 200-250ml) every 15 to 20 minutes until the pain subsides.

4. Poor Sleep

Practise a wind-down routine. Try not to use your phone after dinner, using the time to read, practise some gentle yoga, meditate or take a bath, instead. Make sure your bedroom is dark and not too hot or cold, and try to keep it solely for sleeping.

5. Stress

Only you know the cause, but taking time out to practise mindfulness can help. Practising mindfulness meditation on the way to and from work has been found to benefit some people. Try the Headspace app, which is great for inexperienced meditators.

6. Eye Strain

If you spend a lot of time at a computer, look away from the screen regularly, focusing on the middle distance. Check brightness, contrast and text size are set to optimum levels. If your headaches are frequent, have an eye test.

7. Muscle Tension

Notice how you sit and stand – you should be upright with a natural curve in your spine and your lower back should be supported. Take an hourly break to stretch. Alexander Technique classes and acupuncture can help. Regular exercise is also important.

8. Bright Lights, Loud Noises and Extreme Temperatures

Environmental triggers may cause tension headaches for some people. Try to minimise your exposure to environmental triggers wherever possible. If you are sensitive to noise, ear plugs and/or sound isolating headphones may help. If bright lights are a trigger, wear a hat and sunglasses on sunny days and consider installing dimmer switches at home. If changes in temperature bother you, experiment with layered clothing and try carrying a small hand-held electric fan.

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