Headaches are a common cause of pain and discomfort. Although they can be very debilitating, headaches rarely are a sign of serious illness. It can be difficult to find out what started the headache as there are many potential causes; too much alcohol consumption, a lack of sleep, a cold, jaw or teeth problems, a head injury, hormonal changes or stress.
The most common type is called a tension headache. This headache feels like pressure or tension in the back of the head, temples or jaws and can spread to the neck and shoulders. The pain is often dull and persistent and can last for days. Very rarely does this type cause vomiting or an oversensitivity to light or noise. Some people have tension headaches only once or twice a year, while others may have frequent or even daily headaches.
What causes a tension headache?
The tension headache is caused by too much tension in the neck, head or jaw muscles. Contributors can be:
- Poor posture: prolonged sitting in front of a desk, long commutes, prolonged standing or a lack of movement can all contribute.
- Persistant stress, anxiety, emotional upsets, depression: these factors will not only increase the general muscle tension throughout your body but can also decrease your pain thresholds.
- Eye strain or squinting: too much ‘screen time’ and even prolonged reading can fatigue the eye muscles or facial muscles around the eye.
- Jaw clenching or grinding: unfortunately, this usually occurs at night which makes it hard to combat. The jaw muscles work overtime at night and can cause headaches that are generally worse in the morning.
- Medication overuse: paradoxically, long term use of medication to treat headaches can trigger a headache. Pain relievers offer relief for occasional headaches but should not be taken more than a couple of days a week.
Very often it is a combination of factors that is to blame.
What can you do about it?
There are a few ‘quick fixers’ that can reduce the tension headache straight away:
- Warmth or heat: a hot shower/bath or using a heat pack
- Pain medication used in moderation
- Neck stretches and (self) massage
If the tension headaches keep coming back the most effective long-term treatment is to make lifestyle changes that reduce the frequency of your headaches:
- Manage your stress, find ways to relax. There is no easy solution here, you will have to explore what works best for you
- A healthy diet and regular exercise will help boosting your energy levels and resistance to stress
- Avoid being in the same posture for too long. Change between sitting, standing and walking regularly
Physiotherapy treatment is a very effective solution if you are after immediate relief. We can also help you identify your triggers and coach you to make the right lifestyle changes to reduce the frequency and intensity of tension headaches.
Tension headaches are common but can be very debilitating. The good news is that there are quite a few ways to reduce the headache when it occurs, and lifestyle changes will go a long way in prevention of future episodes. Physiotherapy treatment can help you with both immediate relief and a long-term plan to keep the tension headaches at bay.
Contact our team now to discuss how physiotherapy can help relieve your headache pain.