What is a Tension Headache?



The most common type of headache across the general population is a tension headache. These headaches can occur in three different patterns: infrequent, episodic, or chronic. Despite their prevalence, tension headaches are not usually severe enough to interfere with activities of daily living. They are often described as dull, aching, and diffuse, with a non-descript pain that typically occurs in a "hatband" distribution around the head, encompassing the forehead, temples, and the back of the head.

Tension headaches are distinct in that they are not associated with other symptoms such as nausea or vomiting, which are common in migraines. Additionally, they are not exacerbated by physical activity, allowing individuals to continue their daily routines relatively unimpeded. The pain is generally consistent and steady, lacking the throbbing intensity often seen in other types of headaches.

The exact cause of tension headaches is not fully understood, but they are believed to be related to muscle tension and stress. Factors such as poor posture, prolonged sitting, and emotional stress can contribute to their onset. While typically manageable with over-the-counter pain relievers and lifestyle adjustments, chronic tension headaches may require medical evaluation to rule out other underlying conditions and to develop an appropriate treatment plan. Understanding and identifying tension headaches can help in managing and mitigating their impact on daily life.

CPD time1m
First Published29 July 2019
Updated29 July 2019
29 June 2025
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