Tension Headaches, Explained
When we say “tension headache” we are referring to the normal, day-to-day headache that we feel.
Tension headaches also go by other names including muscle tension headaches, ordinary headaches, and stress headaches.
Because of these varied names, the International Headache Society encouraged medical professionals to use the term “tension-type headaches.”
To sum it up, tension-type headaches are the most common type of headache that people experience.
You can describe it as a discomfort or pain (muscle tightness) in the head. However, some people also feel it in other parts, including the scalp and neck.
What Does a Tension Headache Feel Like?
For you to identify if the pain you’re feeling is a tension-type headache, it’s important to understand its signs and symptoms.
First, people describe the pain as a “sense of tightness around the head.” Imagine this discomfort as a “tight hat-band” or “vise” feeling. Your neck and shoulder muscles may also feel tense, and when you touch them, they may be sore.
Besides the descriptions above, you can also use the following guide to differentiate tension headaches from other types of headaches:
- A tension-type headache has a slow onset.
- The pain is dull and felt throughout the head (both sides). This is unlike a sinus headache where the foci of the pain are behind the brow or cheekbones. If you feel pain in or around your eye, you may be experiencing a cluster headache.
- Tension headache pain is often steady, compared to the throbbing pain of a migraine.
Finally, you might be wondering: does a tension headache feel like you want to vomit? The answer is no.
A tension-type headache does not cause nausea or vomiting, and it usually doesn’t worsen with physical activity.
How Long Do Tension Headaches Last?
Another question you might be having now is: how long does a tension-type headache last?
Generally, tension headaches last anywhere from 30 minutes to 7 days.
The International Headache Society also came up with categories based on the frequency of occurrence of tension headaches:
- If you experience less than 12 episodes of tension headaches in a year, you have what are called as infrequent episodes.
- On the other hand, if you suffer from tension headaches once up to 14 times in a month on average, you have frequent episodes.
- Lastly, if you experience tension headaches at least 15 times in one month on average, you may be having chronic episodes.
Here’s an important note: While the headaches for infrequent and frequent episodes last from 30 minutes to 7 days, chronic episodes can last for hours and maybe continuous.