Tension headaches occur when shoulder and neck muscles become tense. Some people experience tension headaches occasionally; others get them more often.
Here are some strategies that can help you prevent them if you have frequent tension headaches more frequently than once or twice a week.
1. Pay attention to the basics: sleep, stress, nutrition and fatigue. Get enough sleep, eat healthy foods and pace yourself to avoid stressful tiring moments throughout the day.
2. Physical and psychological relaxation techniques can help block tension headaches, as long as you practice these techniques regularly. Physical strategies include applying a cold or hot pad to your neck and shoulders to calm the muscles. Guided imagery exercises that help you focus your attention on various parts of your body in order to relax them and release tension and stress can also help.
3. Another relaxation technique is biofeedback. It requires special training but can help people avoid recurrent tension headaches. Typically, a specially trained professional will attach electrodes to your neck and shoulder muscles. You then learn to recognize when you are becoming tense and practice ways to relax the muscles before they tighten so much that you develop a tension headache.
4. Medication. Some people with tension headaches have very sensitive areas, known as trigger points, at the back of the neck or in the shoulders. Injecting a local anesthetic into these areas may eliminate the pain and prevent the headache from occurring again.
Physical therapy can help many people who suffer from tension headaches, Gabriel Enescu, Director of Excel Physical Therapy in Lodi, CA, says that in particular, people who have headaches caused by muscular tension can benefit from physical therapy. “Treatments may include trigger point therapy, posture re-education, and joint or soft tissue mobilizations.” In addition, the therapist may work to increase the range of motion in the neck and upper spine, and possibly the jaw.
More detailed information can be found on our site under Patient Education Section.