Tension type headaches are the most common headaches that anyone can experience. In fact, up to 80% of the adult population has already experienced an occasional tension headache. Also, 3% of the adult population has chronic tension type headaches that may be experienced almost every day. Tension headaches may be experienced by the general population, but women are twice as likely to develop this type of headache as compared to men.
Tension headaches are commonly known as stress headaches because the pain is mostly triggered by stress. Tension headaches may be episodic, meaning that the pain is mild to moderate and occurs less than 15 days per month or chronic, meaning it can occur more than 15 days in a month and they can be moderate to severe.
Tension headaches are often gradual in onset and usually develop during midday or late during the day. Tension headaches are also often throbbing in character and affect the sides, top and front of the head. Compared to migraines, tension type headaches do not affect balance, vision and strength.
What Causes tension Type Headaches?
Tension type headaches are caused by various etiologies and there is no single cause for the complaint. However, the most common reason for tension headaches is the development of muscle tightness at the scalp and nape area. These tightened muscles are usually the result of:
• Poor posture
• Prolonged sitting and working in front of the computer
• Inadequate rest
• Depression or mental and emotional stress
• Jaw clenching
Muscle tightness from these causes results in a feeling of a tight band around the head, which often causes a throbbing pain on the area.
Other people may also develop tension headaches as a result of internal stress even without muscle tightness. Internal stress may include changes in family dynamics such as birth of a new baby, loss of a loved one, returning to school, lack of support system, work deadlines, and loss of a job. People who are perfectionist or have type A personalities also tend to experience tension type headaches more often than the general population.
Although muscle tightness may be attributed to the above factors, studies still indicate other mechanisms of tension headaches. One of which is the presence of mixed signals in which there is a heightened sensitivity of the nerve endings to pain leading to muscle tenderness as a common symptom. This muscle tenderness causes pain on the muscular area of the neck especially on the frontal (above the forehead) and occipital (above the nape) area.
All these reasons for tension headaches are different from the reasons of migraines since migraines involve conditions affecting the blood vessels supplying the head. However, tension headaches and migraines can be difficult to distinguish from one another at the onset of the pain. Nevertheless, migraines involve other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, visual disturbances and dizziness, which are absent in tension headaches.
Regardless of the cause, tension headaches can be prevented as long as proper managements are employed such as reduction of stress, employing proper body mechanics or ergonomics, maintenance of ideal body weight and adequate rest.