Two Types of Tension Headaches and How They're Treated

Oct 05, 2023
Two Types of Tension Headaches and How They're Treated
When your head hurts, you may be more focused on stopping the pain than understanding the nature of your headache. However, successful treatment depends on the kind of headache you’re experiencing, so it’s important to understand the type.

Every day, millions of Americans experience headaches severe enough to disrupt their routine, and most are tension-type headaches.

Even the “Headache Guy,” Dr. Wade Steeves at Valley Neurology in Spokane Valley, Washington, can’t prevent every headache coming your way. However, he does use his neurological expertise to focus full-time on headache treatment and prevention.

Check this information from Dr. Steeves and his team about the two categories of tension-type headaches and treatments that help.

Understanding tension headaches

Tension headaches generally cause mild to moderate pain around the neck, head, and face. Many individuals describe a band-like discomfort or squeezing pain on both sides of the head that’s constant rather than pulsating or throbbing.

Unfortunately, it’s not clear what exactly causes these headaches. However, potential triggers include:

  • Tightened muscles at the back of the head and neck
  • Chronic stress related to family, work, or social life
  • Eye strain, particularly that caused by excessive screen time
  • Poor sleep and subsequent fatigue
  • Skipping meals
  • Conditions such as temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder

Poor posture during screen time at work or home, which affects the alignment and health of the spine, can also cause tension-type headaches.

Types of tension headaches

Tension-type headaches are typically categorized as episodic or chronic:

Episodic tension headaches

Tension headaches that occur less frequently than 15 days a month for at least three months are classified as episodic.

Episodic tension headaches are the most common of the two types and can last 30 minutes to a week. They typically come on slowly and tend to start in the afternoon.

Chronic tension headaches

Tension headaches that occur more than 15 days a month for three consecutive months are classified as chronic.

Although symptoms of chronic tension-type headaches are similar to episodic headaches, the pain may become a persistent dull ache that, like other chronic pain conditions, can impact your quality of life.

Treating tension headaches

Dr. Steeves starts with an evaluation to identify your headache type. He then customizes a treatment strategy based on your individual needs.

Treatment for infrequent tension headaches may include pain medicines such as ibuprofen, aspirin, or acetaminophen. It’s crucial, however, to use these medications as directed since using them too frequently can cause rebound headaches.

Overuse or rebound headaches can occur when you take pain medication more than 2-3 days a week to relieve a headache that’s already started. That’s not a concern with daily medications Dr. Steeves may prescribe to help prevent headaches.

Treatment for frequent or chronic tension-type headaches requires a more holistic approach that may include:

  • Nerve block for immediate pain relief
  • Preventive medications such as antidepressants that affect pain centers in the brain
  • Physical therapy to reduce muscle tightness and improve posture
  • Stress management with meditation, deep breathing, etc.
  • Improved sleep habits (7-8 hours of restful sleep nightly)
  • Healthy lifestyle habits such as a balanced diet and regular physical activity

For more information about diagnosing and treating headaches, schedule an evaluation with Dr. Steeves at Valley Neurology today. Call the office or request an appointment online.