Minimizing Psychological Triggers
Human emotions may be a trigger for tension headaches. Reactions such as anger and psychological states like anxiety are commonly blamed.
Try to Relax
In addition to an OTC pain reliever, relaxation techniques are a good way to reduce headache pain since they are an outlet for emotional and physical tension. Techniques range from simple exercises, such as deep breathing and brisk walking, to mind-control disciplines, such as meditation and biofeedback. Below are some tried and true methods.
Get a Massage
Massage loosens the “kinks” in muscles and ligaments. You can massage your own head, neck and shoulder area, though, ideally, it is most relaxing to have someone else massage you. Techniques include rubbing and kneading and applying pressure to specific areas of the body.
Take a Deep Breath
This relaxation technique can be done anywhere. Take slow, deep breaths, inhaling from the diaphragm rather than from the chest. Breathe through your nose, gradually filling your lungs with oxygen. Exhale slowly and completely. Too much deep breathing can make you feel light-headed or lead to hyperventilation so don't overdo it.
Meditation can provide physical and emotional benefits. Ideally, meditate for one or two 20-minute sessions each day in a quiet place. There are several ways to meditate, and it's best to consult with a professional who can provide proper training techniques.
Physical activity can reduce stress and make tension headaches less painful and less frequent. Exercise regularly: Try for a minimum of 15 to 20 minutes three times a week. Stretch and work the muscles with an activity you enjoy—it can be anything from brisk walking to aerobic dancing or swimming.
This technique teaches you to be aware of—and to control—bodily reactions, including headache pain. During biofeedback, a special machine called an electromyograph (EMG) measures the tension level in certain muscles. Progressive relaxation exercises, in which you focus on the tension in certain parts of your body and then "release" the tension in each part, are helpful in conjunction with biofeedback. Your physician can refer you to a biofeedback practitioner who can develop a specific program that meets your needs.
Try a Pain Reliever
Preventive measures are key in avoiding headaches. But if you do end up with a tension headache, most doctors recommend the use of an OTC pain reliever such as Advil®, which contains ibuprofen. As with any medication, it's important to read the label before using it.
While the minor tension headache is the most common type of headache, there are other types, including migraine, cluster and sinus headaches, as well as headaches resulting from illness or injuries. Most headaches do not require medical attention, but there are situations when a physician should be consulted.
Contact a physician if your headaches:
- Occur every day or in a different pattern than usual
- Strike suddenly and severely
- Follow a blow to the head
- Grow progressively more painful
- Are initiated by physical exertion
- Are associated with or accompanied by fever, a stiff neck, pain in the eyes or ears, swelling and soreness around the eyes and cheekbones, persistent nausea or vomiting, convulsions, loss of consciousness, mental confusion or a change in vision.
- Are disabling in that they cause you to lose time from work or other activities