What is a Tension Headache?
The WHO and the Global Burden of Disease study1 ranked Tension-Type Headache (TTH) as the second most prevalent disorder in the world behind dental caries.
The International Headache Society reports that TTH is the most common type of primary headache with up to 70% of the population being affected during their lifetime2.
Tension Headaches are normally described as constant pressure, tightness or squeezing pain and is frequently located on both sides or all over the head, although occasionally, like migraine it can be one-sided.
Unlike migraine, TTH is not characterized by pulsating, nausea or vomiting but can occasionally cause some light or sound sensitivity. Other symptoms can include tenderness of scalp, neck and shoulder muscles, restricted neck range of motion or trouble concentrating and difficulty sleeping.
Normally TTH is mild to moderate in intensity and can last from 30 minutes to 7 days. In some patients however, TTH occurs on several days every month or even daily. Studies show a staggering 37% of headache sufferers report daily headache3. Those suffering from these headaches on more than 15 days in a month are categorised as having chronic TTH2.
What causes Tension Headaches?
Those suffering from Tension-Type Headache (TTH) often report that their headaches are triggered by ‘’stress’’ or ‘’tension in the neck and shoulders’’. Other triggers commonly include prolonged or poor posture at the computer, driving or sedentary tasks, neck dysfunction, medication overuse and fatigue. Often a massage, warm shower, exercise or pain medications can alleviate the pain for it to only return at a later time or the next day.
Interestingly, studies into TTH using muscle EMG have shown that increased muscle tension in the head, face and scalp may be a symptom and not a cause of TTH4. In fact, just like in migraine sufferers, the latest research now suggests a common underlying cause; that is abnormal brainstem processing, sensitivity and amplification in those suffering with TTH5. In other words, hypersensitivity in the central nervous system (at the region of the brainstem “headache headquarters”) is the neurological disorder that renders a person prone to a TTH attack from even just usual everyday stimuli like neck tension or stress (for example).
The good news is this brainstem sensitivity can be treated with an integrated and combined therapy approach, with a critical step being expert screening of the upper neck as a primary contributor of sensitivity in the brainstem3,4.
Our unique combined therapy approach is logical and evidence-based and aimed at decreasing the sensitivity in the brainstem at the “headache headquarters” with a number of safe treatment options individualized to your headache type.
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call us on 1300 HOPE 4 YOU (1300 467 349) or book an appointment.
- Vos, T, Flaxman, A.D, Naghav,i M, et al. (2012). “Years lived with disability (YLDs) for 1160 sequelae of 289 diseases and injuries 1990-2010: A systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study”. Lancet 2012; 380: 2163–2196
- Headache Classification Committee of the International Headache Society. The International Classification of Headache Disorders, 3rd edition. Cephalalgia 2013; 33: 629–808.
- Lipton, R.B et. al. (2001) “Prevalence and burden of Migraine in the United States”. Headache 2001:41 646-657
- Watson, D, (2015) “Sensitive New Age Migraine”; video lecture
- Goadsby,, P.J. (2009) “The vascular theory of Migraine. A great story wrecked by the facts”. Brain, 132 (1), pp 6-7.
- Steiner, T.J, Birbeck, G.L, Jensen R, et al. “Lifting The Burden: The first 7 years”. J Headache Pain (2010); 11: 451–455.
- Watson, D. and Drummond (2014). “Cervical Referral of Head Pain in Migraineurs: Effects on the Nociceptive Blink Reflex””Cephalalgia. 54: 1035-1045. Doi 10.1111/head.12335.
- Watson, D. Drummond, P.D. (2012). “Head Pain Referral During Examination of the Neck in Migraine and Tension-Type Headache”. Headache. 52: 1226-1235. Doi: 10.1111/j.1526-4610.2012.02169.x
The Headache + Migraine Clinic
Telephone: 1300 HOPE 4 YOU (1300 467 349)
Brisbane West (Springfield Central)
Suite 3, Level 1, Orion Springfield Central
1 Main Street, Springfield Central QLD 4300