What is a Chronic Tension Headache?

Jeremy Laukkonen

In order for tension headaches to qualify as being chronic, they typically must be experienced more than 15 days each month. If they occur 15 or less days each month, they may be referred to as episodic tension headaches. Regardless of frequency, tension headaches are the most commonly experienced form of headache among adults. Between 30-80% of adults in the US may suffer from episodic tension headaches, while about three percent may suffer from chronic tension headaches. The chronic tension headache typically involves a heavy throbbing sensation somewhere in the top, sides or front of the head that can change in severity throughout the day.

A bottle of OTC painkillers, which can help with a chronic tension headache.
A bottle of OTC painkillers, which can help with a chronic tension headache.

The chronic tension headache may also be known as a chronic stress headache, since they are often brought on by various stresses. A tension-type headache can be precipitated by almost anything that causes stress, including problems at home or work, taking on more commitments than are possible to complete, or having a new baby. People predisposed to episodic tension headaches may find that any incident of internal or external stress can set off a painful episode. Those with the chronic tension headache will often find their headaches caused by simple daily stresses.

Engaging in light physical activity and relaxation may help alleviate a stress-induced headache.
Engaging in light physical activity and relaxation may help alleviate a stress-induced headache.

Other people may trace their stress headaches to something physical, such as tight muscles. For these people, their tension-type headaches can be brought on by muscles in either the scalp or neck that are tight. This, in turn, can be the result of a variety of things, including poor posture, exhaustion and lack of sleep. For those who suffer from this kind of chronic tension headache, taking steps to correct the physical issues may help alleviate their symptoms.

Tight scalp or neck muscles can sometimes cause tension headaches.
Tight scalp or neck muscles can sometimes cause tension headaches.

Stress headaches can often be managed with a variety of over the counter (OTC) medications. Some people may avoid their chronic tension headaches altogether by taking certain painkillers as a preventative measure. Those who can trace their headaches to tight muscles may also benefit from a visit to their doctor. In certain cases, a muscle relaxant may be prescribed to remove the root cause of the headaches. While various painkillers can be very effective for some people, excess use may result in the medicine losing its effectiveness.

There are also a number of homeopathic ways to approach tension headaches. Products containing belladonna or bryonia are sometimes recommended as homeopathic treatments, and nux vomica may help release muscle stress that is often associated with tension-type headaches. As with many homeopathic treatments, it may be wise to consult a physician about the best way to approach the issue.

Stresses from day-to-day life may cause chronic tension headaches.
Stresses from day-to-day life may cause chronic tension headaches.

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