Tension Headaches

Tension headaches are the most common type of headache people experience. With so many of us working remotely on computers these days we are seeing an increase in headaches complaints. If you suffer from headaches, continue reading to learn more.

Tension Headaches: What Are They?

These headaches cause mild to moderate pain in the head, scalp, or neck. People often describe a “tight band feeling” around their head. Tension headaches tend to be episodic in nature. They “come and go.” The duration and frequency of these headaches are usually shorter than other types of headaches. Unfortunately, tension headaches can become chronic, which can make them more difficult to differentiate from migraines.

Tension headaches usually do not cause visual disturbances, nausea, vomiting, or increased sensitivity to light or sound. They do not get worse with physical activity. These signs are typical of migraines.

Tension headaches become more of a medical concern when:

  • Headaches disrupt your lifestyle
  • You need to use medication more than twice a week
  • If your headache is abrupt and severe
  • When your headache follows a head injury/accident
  • If your headache is accompanied by a fever, stiff neck, mental confusion, seizures, weakness, numbness or trouble speaking


Preventing Tension Headaches

Multiple factors can contribute to a tension headaches including:

  • Stress or anxiety
  • Lack of sleep
  • Poor posture

Preventing and managing tension headaches involves ways to reduce stress and strain such as: yoga, stretching, meditation, reduction of postural stress, regular exercise, consistent sleep, healthy diet, drinking plenty of water, and be careful with alcohol, caffeine, and sugar consumption.


Physical Therapy and Tension Headaches

Physical therapy can have a significant positive impact on tension headaches. After a comprehensive evaluation your therapist will develop an appropriate treatment plan based on your individual needs. Treatment can encompass a variety of techniques including: stretching, strengthening, joint and/or soft tissue mobilization, and use of ice or heat, along with a specific home exercise program.


The primary goals of physical therapy for tension headaches are to reduce pain/symptoms and identify headache triggers. Secondary goals are to increase strength and flexibility, increase neck mobility and function, and reduce postural stress/strain.


Suggested Exercises

Here are a few gentle exercises that can help alleviate stress and strain related to tension headaches. Each exercise can be held for 10 seconds. Release and repeat 5 times. Try to do 3 sessions per day if tolerated well.


  • Chin tuck stretch – look straight ahead, keeping your head level; pull your head gently backwards into a “chin tuck” position; then bend your head down towards your chest until you feel a stretch at the back of your neck.
  • Lateral flexion or side stretch – gently bend your head/neck to the left side, attempting to touch your left ear to your left shoulder, until a light stretch is felt on the opposite, right side. Do this same routine going the other direction.
  • Shoulder rolls – sitting or standing, shrug your shoulders forward, then shrug them up towards your ears, then pull them back, and lastly pull them down in the attempt to make a complete circle. Complete the recommended repetitions, then reverse directions.


Feel free to contact our office for questions or concerns you may have regarding treatment for tension headaches.