One minute you are staring at your computer screen, trying to sift through emails and tackle the latest problem at work, and the next thing you know, a familiar band of pain tightens around your skull. You focus on your work, but the pressure remains constant as you go on with your activities. Many can relate to this scenario: This constriction of muscles in the neck and scalp is likely a tension-type headache—the most common type of headache—that is often attributed to a spike in stress.
The World Health Organization reports that tension-type headaches often start in the teenage years and are more common among women than men. And if you get them 15 or more days a month over the course of three months (or longer) it is considered a chronic condition. For some, these mild-to-intense tension headaches can turn into severe and debilitating migraine pain.
Many people find that tension-type headaches set in near the end of a stressful day. Aside from stress, other possible tension-type headache causes include depression, sleep deprivation, overexertion, hunger, eye strain, dental issues, alcohol use and illnesses such as a cold or flu.
Though researchers don’t necessarily know whether it is a cause or effect, neck weakness was recently uncovered as another important link to tension headaches, unlike sinus or cluster headaches. Published in the journal Cephalalgia, the study compared 60 people with tension headaches and 30 healthy individuals, finding that the neck and shoulder muscles in those who suffered from regular tension headaches were 26 percent weaker than the healthy individuals.
The study’s authors wrote that more research on the muscle-skeletal impact on tension headaches was important, but they did suggest that people whose lifestyles involve repetitive motions such as a dental hygienist or horseback rider may benefit from working with a trainer or physical therapist to work muscles that might not get exercised due to day-to-day activities.
If you are experiencing regular head pain—whether you have tension or migraine symptoms—the physicians at the Migraine Treatment Centers of America are prepared to help you pinpoint the causes, triggers, and most importantly, a treatment just for you.