A tension headache typically involves a mild to moderate pain that may feel like a tight band surrounding the head. These types of headaches are the most common type of headache, yet they are also the most often misunderstood.

Tension headaches may be episodic or chronic in nature. An episodic tension headache may last anywhere from less than an hour up to a week. In some cases, frequent episodic tension headaches may turn into chronic headaches. A chronic tension headache may last for several hours at a time and could even become continuous. Headaches that last for 15 or more days per month for a minimum of three months are considered chronic.

It can be difficult to distinguish between tension headaches and migraines. Individuals who suffer from frequent tension headaches may also experience migraines.

Symptoms and Effects of Tension Headaches

Tension headaches may produce a variety of symptoms and effects, including:

  • Dull, aching pain
  • Sensation of pressure or tightness across the forehead or across the back of the head
  • Tenderness in the neck, scalp, or shoulder muscles
  • Sleep disturbance

Unlike migraine headaches, tension headaches typically do not cause nausea, vomiting, or visual disturbances. While not common, a tension headache may also result in an increased sensitivity to either sound or light.

Causes of Tension Headaches

Numerous triggers can lead to tension headaches, such as:

  • Fatigue
  • Poor posture
  • Stress
  • Smoking
  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol
  • Depression
  • Eye strain
  • TMJ/jaw problems, including grinding and clenching the teeth
  • Sinus infection, cold, or the flu

Physical Therapy Treatments for Tension Headaches

Physical therapy can provide relief for tension headaches. Therapists utilize manual therapy, modalities such as cold laser therapy and other tools to help patients decrease their symptoms and return to activity.