Muscle contraction headache; Headache - benign; Headache - tension; Chronic headaches - tension; Rebound headaches - tension
Understanding your headache triggers can help you avoid situations that cause your headaches. A headache diary can help you identify your headache triggers. When you get a headache, write down the day and time the pain began. The diary should include notes about what you ate and drank in the last 24 hours, how much you slept and when, and what was going on in your life immediately before the pain started. For example, were you under any unusual stress? Also include information about how long the headache lasted, and what made it stop.
Hot or cold showers or baths may relieve a headache for some people. You may need to make lifestyle changes if you have chronic tension headaches. This may include changing your sleep habits (usually to get more sleep), increasing exercise, and stretching the neck and back muscles. In some situations, you may need to change your job or recreational habits.
Over-the-counter painkillers such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or acetaminophen may relieve pain if relaxation techniques do not work. If you are planning to take part in an activity that you know will trigger a headache, taking one of these painkillers beforehand may be helpful.
Narcotic pain relievers are sometimes prescribed. Remember that pain medications only relieve headache symptoms for a short period of time. After a while, they do not work as well or the help they provide does not last as long. Regular, overuse of pain medications can lead to rebound headaches.
Other prescription treatments may include:
- Muscle relaxants such as tizanidine
- Selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as paroxetine (Paxil) or citalopram (Celexa) taken daily to help prevent or decrease the number of headaches
- Tricyclic antidepressants such as amitriptyline, nortriptyline, or doxepin taken daily to help prevent or decrease the number of headaches
Combining drug treatment with relaxation or stress-management training, biofeedback, cognitive behavioral therapy, or acupuncture may provide better relief for chronic headaches.
Botox (botulinum toxin) is becoming popular as a treatment for chronic daily headaches, including tension headaches. However, it is currently not approved for such use.
Review Date: 11/22/2010
Reviewed By: Kevin Sheth, MD, Department of Neurology, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.