Causes and Treatments of Tension-Type Headaches

Also known as stress headaches, tension-type headaches (TTH) usually occur on both sides of the head causing a pressing or tightening sensation. It can feel like a tight band or clamp around someone’s head, leading to mild or moderate pain. However, unlike other headaches, tension headaches don’t tend to pulsate or induce nausea

Tension headaches can occur regularly, even on a daily basis for some time. Although these are frequently caused by stress, stress/tension is not the only cause of these headaches with varying causes and triggers responsible.  


Major contributors to TTH include: 

  • Stress or Anxiety
  • Poor Posture: sitting and standing
  • Depression
  • Reading for long periods
  • Squinting
  • Tiredness/lack of sleep
  • Dehydration
  • Brightness
  • Overconsumption of coffee or cigarettes
  • Overusing pain-relief medication

Lack of exercise


Tension headaches themselves don’t generally present risks outside of affecting one’s mood and being an inconvenience. However, over-medication to treat these headaches can lead to more serious concerns such as Gastrointestinal bleeding from non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). 

Prevention and Treatment 

TTHs are usually treatable with a combination of manual therapy and stretching. While the most common form of treatment is usually medication, there are other things you can do to reduce the risk or intensity of these headaches. 

Stretching exercises are an effective way to treat tension headaches. Muscle tightness, specifically around the neck and shoulders region, are correlated with tension related headaches. As such, stretching can be used to relax these muscles.

The stretches should be done in sets of 3-4, holding stretches for 15-30 seconds, with the main areas to target being the neck, trapezius and back.

See below for some common stretches that target the muscles usually involved in tension headaches: 

Stretch 1: Levator Scapulae

Using a chair, with your feet flat on the ground, reach behind and grab the back of the chair. Take your opposite hand, place it on the back of your head and gently pull it towards your chest. At this point you should feel the stretch through the back of your neck and top of the shoulder. Hold for 30 seconds.

Stretch 2: Pectoral Stretch

This stretch will help bring the shoulders back to a neutral position, taking the pressure off the neck muscles. Extend your right arm out 90 degrees from your body, placing your hand on a door frame or corner wall. Gently lean forward until you feel the stretch in the chest region. Hold for 15-30 seconds and then switch arms.

Stretch 3: Upper Trapezius Stretch

This stretch will relieve stress around the side of the neck and base of the skull. In a seated position, grab onto the side of your head, applying slight pressure. Gently begin pulling your head toward your shoulder until you feel the stretch in your back and base of the skull. Hold for 30 seconds, before returning to the starting position and switching to the opposite side.

Some forms of manual therapy are also effective at treating TTHs. Dry needling, in particular, has research-proven clinically significant reductions in the severity and length of tension-type headaches. As such, a program that incorporates strengthening of neck muscles, stretching, relaxation and manual release is most likely to reduce the severity and likelihood of recurrence of TTH.

Still confused about Tension Type Headache? Do you feel that you need the opinion of an expert? At The Performance Centre, we have an experienced team of Allied Health practitioners that have experience treating all ranges of conditions. Get in touch with us today and we will be happy to answer any questions you may have.

Alternatively, feel free to visit us for an appointment in our centre at 381-385 Fitzroy Street, Fitzroy. An appointment with one of our Allied Health practitioners can be booked via the link here

The Performance Centre
381-385 Fitzroy Street, Fitzroy
1300 808 987

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