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Tension Headache

Tension headaches are often described as a dull ache, pressure, or tightness on both sides of the head – starting from the forehead and continuing to the base of the skull. They are very common, and approximately 30-70% of people will experience at least one in their lifetimes.

Our evidence-based analysis on tension headache features 8 unique references to scientific papers.

Research analysis led by and reviewed by the Examine team.
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Summary of Tension Headache

What are tension headaches?

Tension headaches or tension-type headaches were formerly called “muscle contraction headaches.” They are often described as dull aches, pressure, or tightness on both sides of the head. They can be further classified into frequent or infrequent episodic or chronic tension type headaches.[1][2]

How are tension headaches diagnosed?

Tension headaches typically do not require an official diagnosis if they are not very severe or frequent and do not occur secondary to another health condition. Tension headaches can be differentiated from other types of headaches because they usually respond to over-the-counter treatments such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen.[3][4]

Have any supplements been studied for tension headaches?

Whether certain dietary supplements help tension headache has not been explored at length in clinical research or clinical guidelines. Limited research has been conducted with melatonin, 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP), and riboflavin.[5][6] 

What's the connection between diet and tension headache?

The connection between diet and tension headache has not been explored at length in clinical research or clinical guidelines.[5][6]

Are there any other treatments for tension headaches?

Certain modalities are beneficial for stress reduction and also seem to help reduce tension headaches. Some examples include acupuncture, chiropractics, trigger point therapy, massage, magnet therapy, and others.[3] Click here to read more.

What causes tension headaches?

The exact cause of tension headaches is unknown and can differ if the tension headache is infrequent or frequent (chronic). Some research suggests that the pain occurs from muscle tenderness and nerve sensitization on the outside of the head. This can be brought on by stress, poor posture, and possibly weak neck muscles. Increased frequency of tension headache is thought to occur because the nerves around the head become more and more sensitive over time.[3][7]

Episodic headaches can be secondary to factors such as poor sleep, muscle tension, eye strain, low blood sugar, and others.[8]

Click here to see all 8 references.