A tension headache, also known as a stress headache, is something that most people experience in their lives. It is a common condition, triggered by emotional, mental or physical strain or stress. People of all age groups, from kids to the elderly, can suffer from tension headaches anytime, anywhere and under any circumstances.
The obvious symptom of a stress headache is the ache itself. Sometimes you feel excessive ‘pressure’ inside your head as if your brain is about to explode. At other times, you may feel a stabbing sensation as if someone is hammering against your head. Some people also suffer from pain in the neck or shoulder but do not recognise it as part of a stress headache.
The exact triggering factors for tension headaches have not yet been identified medically. Doctors and researchers are not sure what exactly leads to an unbearable pain in the head when a person is under stressful circumstances.
That being said, one theory suggests that stress headaches are triggered when muscles in the head and neck region contract. Such contractions can again be triggered by anything including, but not limited to, stressful activities, unhealthy food, staring at the computer screen for hours or driving for a long period of time under difficult situations.
Often, cold temperatures can trigger a stress headache too. Such headaches can also result from sitting in the same position for hours in a poor posture.
To be on the safe side and reduce chances of stress headaches, avoid straining your eyes, relax often and try meditating if you are too stressed out. In other words, try to keep your mind calm and reduce emotional or mental stress.
Avoid eating unhealthy foods that can cause flatulence or make you feel bloated thereby putting excessive pressure on your stomach. Additionally, be sure to avoid alcohol, caffeine and reduce/give up smoking.
If you are compelled to sit in a certain position for hours, maintain the correct posture. Try to keep your spine straight and put a pillow behind your lower back to provide support. Do not stoop on your desk as this puts physical strain on the muscles of your neck, shoulder and upper back. Take a walk every hour or so to relax your muscles.
Often taking painkillers or resting for some time can help alleviate tension headaches. However, do remember that painkillers can have their own side effects. Avoid taking them too often. Applying a topical ointment, or even some essential oils, and gently massaging the muscles of your neck and shoulders is a better option in reducing tension headache.
If your pain is unbearable, persistent and frequent, consult a doctor. They will prescribe some tests to rule out other possibilities such as a brain tumour and may also recommend an MRI to understand the condition of soft tissues inside your brain.