A tension headache is a common headache caused by stress, anxiety, and muscle tension. As the name implies, this is not caused by a disease or a structural problem in the head or neck. Rather, it is a muscular or a vascular problem. Therefore, a tension headache may also be called a “stress headache.”
Tension headaches can occur at any time but most commonly occur on the front (anterior) part of the head, around the forehead, and eyes. In adults, tension headaches are more common than migraine headaches. Tension headaches are also one of the most common reasons people seek medical attention.
The pain of tension headaches usually lasts for minutes or hours rather than days, as with migraine headaches. However, the pain can be moderate to severe and usually occurs simultaneously on both sides of the head (unlike migraine).
This condition is one of the most common reasons for missed days at work or school and visits to doctors’ offices. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the most common types of headache patients complain about—yet it’s also one of the easiest to treat.
Tension headaches can be caused by many things, including some of the most common ones below.
A tension headache is a pain caused by muscle tension in the neck, face, and scalp. It may feel similar to the pain of a migraine, although migraines are much more severe and are often accompanied by vision disturbances and nausea or vomiting. Since tension headaches can be so uncomfortable to deal with, it’s helpful to understand what causes them.
Tension headaches typically develop after spending too long with your muscles tensed up. This can happen due to stress or anxiety, which typically causes people to clench their jaws, sit up very straight, and hold their breath a lot. It’s also common for people who suffer from chronic tension headaches to grind their teeth.
Stress/anxiety and holding your breath play such important roles in causing tension headaches because they raise blood pressure in the muscles surrounding your head, which leads to sudden constriction of the arteries that supply blood flow to these areas. This can cause pain or discomfort when you try to relax those muscles again (allowing the blood vessels to open back up).
Some people may have an underlying vascular problem that causes the blood vessels in their head to constrict more easily than normal when stressed out or under a lot of pressure. This is why some people get tension headaches when stressed out or under pressure, while others don’t.