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Tension-type headache - tension headache
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Tension-type headache - tension headache

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Tension-type headache typically causes pain that radiates
in a band-like fashion bilaterally from the forehead to the occiput.



Rest, ice packs, a warm compress or a long, hot shower may be all you need to relieve an occasional headache. If these methods don't help, you may get relief from an over-the-counter (OTC) pain reliever, such as aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others). Try to take them only when necessary and then use the smallest dose needed to relieve your pain. Overusing pain medications can actually cause chronic daily headaches. In addition, aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, can have serious side effects, including stomach or intestinal pain or bleeding and ulcers.

Check with your doctor before giving any headache medication to children. If taken in large doses or for long periods of time, acetaminophen can cause serious liver damage. And don't give aspirin to children under age 16. Aspirin has been linked to Reye's syndrome, a rare, but potentially fatal condition.

If OTC pain relievers don't help, your doctor may prescribe a prescription medication to reduce the severity and frequency of your headaches. Among the most effective drugs for treating tension-type headaches are tricyclic antidepressant medications such as amitriptyline (Elavil) and nortriptyline (Aventyl, Pamelor). You don't have to be depressed to use this medication or for it to be effective.

Side effects of tricyclic antidepressants include weight gain, drowsiness, dry mouth, blurred vision and constipation. Older adults also may experience confusion or faintness when taking this drug.

On occasion, your doctor may prescribe the medications divalproex (Depakote) or gabapentin (Neurontin). These medications were developed to treat seizure disorders but sometimes help prevent headaches.

Medications don't cure headaches and over time, painkillers and other medications may lose their effectiveness. In addition, all medications have side effects. If you take medications regularly, including products you buy over-the-counter, discuss the risks and benefits with your doctor. Also, remember that pain medications aren't a substitute for recognizing and dealing with the stressors that may be causing your headaches.


Although medications can provide temporary relief, lifestyle changes are ultimately the best way to combat tension-type headaches. The following tips may help:

  • Exercise regularly. Regular aerobic exercise, such as walking, swimming or biking, can help reduce the frequency and intensity of Headaches. Exercise relieves stress, relaxes your muscles and increases the levels of one of your body's natural stress relievers, beta-Endorphin. Yoga, massage, stretching and posture classes also can be extremely helpful in preventing tension-type headaches. If you already have a headache, exercise can help relieve the pain. In some cases, however, exercise may bring on a headache, so check with your doctor before starting any exercise program.

  • Manage stress. In addition to regular exercise, techniques such as biofeedback training and relaxation therapy can help reduce stress. Biofeedback teaches you to control certain body responses that help reduce pain. During a biofeedback session, you're connected to devices that monitor and give you feedback on body functions such as muscle tension, heart rate and blood pressure. You then learn how to reduce muscle tension and slow your heart rate and breathing yourself. The goal of biofeedback is to help you enter a relaxed state so that you can better cope with your pain. Ask your doctor whether such a program might help you.

  • Other relaxation techniques include deep breathing, yoga, meditation and progressive muscle relaxation, which is accomplished by tensing one muscle at a time, and then completely releasing the tension, until every muscle in your body is relaxed. You can learn relaxation techniques in special classes or at home using books or tapes. Many of them may also be helpful for children.


Try some of the following suggestions to see which work best for you:

  • Heat or ice packs. You may find that an ice pack held to your forehead brings almost immediate relief. Wrap ice packs in a cloth to protect your skin. Use a heating pad set on low, a hot water bottle or a hot towel to relax tight neck and shoulder muscles.

  • A hot bath or shower. A hot bath or shower helps relax muscle tension. You might want to try applying an ice pack to your head while taking a hot bath.

  • A stress break. If you're in a stressful situation, taking a break may help.

  • Sleep. Sometimes the best cure for a Headache is to sleep it off.


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