Tension headaches, also known as stress headaches, are one of the most common types of headaches and countless people experience them.
While the exact cause is unknown, some experts believe these headaches are caused by muscle contractions in the head and neck regions.
Certain factors contribute to this type of headache. Some common triggers are stress, impaired sleep, skipping meals, vision problems, eyestrain, overexertion and muscle strain. Also, females suffer from tension headaches more often than men.
Tension headaches fall under two categories — episodic and chronic. Episodic tension headaches can last from 30 minutes to one week, whereas chronic tension headaches last hours and may be continuous.
A tension headache causes mild to moderate pain, giving the feeling of a tight band around your head. The pain may begin in the back of the head or above the eyebrows and finally impacts the whole head.
Other symptoms include pressure across your forehead or on the sides and back of your head, and tenderness in your scalp, neck and shoulder muscles.
In addition to causing discomfort, headaches can also make you anxious or depressed and affect your relationships, your productivity and the quality of your life.
To prevent tension headaches, it is important to identify the triggers and avoid them.
Here are the top 10 ways to treat and prevent tension headaches.
1. Stress Management
The first important step to treat or prevent tension headaches is controlling your stress level. In fact, stress is not only a trigger but can also worsen the pain.
There are many ways that you can manage your stress level.
- Take a hot bath or shower to relax tense muscles.
- Listen to soft and soothing music in a quiet room.
- Spend time doing anything you like to do, such as gardening or painting.
- Read something inspiring.
- Go out for a walk and enjoy nature.
- Practice stress-busting techniques like deep breathing, yoga, meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, and visualization and guided imagery.
- Exercise regularly to lower stress. Plus, it has positive effects on blood pressure levels.
A good scalp massage for a few minutes can also provide significant relief from stress-related headaches. It will help reduce stress, ease muscle soreness and tension, and improve blood circulation.
When massaging, focus on the temporal regions or the occipital area (the back of the head) for the best results.
- Mix 1 or 2 drops of thyme or rosemary essential oil in 2 tablespoons of warm olive or coconut oil.
- Dab the oil on each temple and on your forehead.
- Massage it gently into the skin.
- Then, sit quietly for several minutes to let this home remedy work.
You can also consider a whole-body massage for relief.
3. Ice Pack
Applying an ice pack to your head can soothe sore muscles and ease a tension headache.
At times, headaches occur due to expanded blood vessels pressing on nerves. In such a situation, applying something cold to the area can constrict those vessels and relieve some of the pressure. This in turn provides relief from the throbbing ache.
- Put a few ice cubes in a plastic bag and wrap the bag in a thin towel.
- Lie down in a quiet place and place the cold compress on your forehead.
- Wait 2 minutes, then take a break for 2 minutes.
- Repeat the cycle 4 or 5 times.
- Try to relax and soon the pain will be gone.
Note: Do not put ice directly on your skin, as it can cause frostbite.
4. Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar works especially well for migraines, but it is also effective for tension headaches. It helps balance the pH levels in the body and aids in detoxification.
Plus, it offers anti-inflammatory benefits that provide relief from a throbbing headache. It is also effective at reducing your stress level.
- Add 1 tablespoon of raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar to a glass of water.
- Optionally, add a little honey.
- Drink this once or twice daily to prevent as well as treat headaches.
You can also drink chamomile tea and green tea to help ease headaches.
5. Rosemary Oil Footbath
According to herbalists, footbath with rosemary oil is a powerful home remedy for headaches. The hot water draws blood to your feet, thus easing the pressure in the blood vessels of your head. This in turn eases the throbbing pain.
On the other hand, rosemary oil has anti-inflammatory properties that aid in reducing pain. A 2013 study published in Food Chemistry highlights the anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties of rosemary.
- Add 7 or 8 drops of rosemary essential oil to a small tub filled with warm water.
- Soak your feet in the footbath for 20 to 30 minutes and try to relax.
- When done, pat dry your feet with a soft towel.
6. Peppermint Essential Oil
Peppermint essential oil can calm your nerves and reduce your stress level, making it one of the best remedies for tension headaches.
Topical application helps relax your muscles and nerves as well as promoting blood circulation.
A 2007 study published in American Family Physician found that topical application of peppermint oil may be effective in the treatment of tension headaches.
- Find a quiet place to relax. Massage a few drops of peppermint oil onto your temples, forehead, and back of your neck. Breathe deeply while doing so.
- Alternatively, you can place 2 wet peppermint tea bags on your closed eyelids or forehead for 5 to 10 minutes.