Tension headache

Synonyms: Muscle contraction headache, Stress headache, Tension-type headache

Medical Specialties: Family practice, Internal medicine, Neurology

Clinical Definition

Tension headaches, sometimes called tension-type headaches, are the most prevalent type of head pain experienced by adults. Patients vary with frequency of symptoms, and the pain may be mild or moderate and feel like a band of pressure squeezing the head. 

In Our Own Words

Tension headaches, or tension-type headaches, are not migraines, which tend to produce throbbing pain. Instead, common tension headaches feel like a dull tightness or a band of pressure wrapping around the head and may affect the neck and scalp muscles. Interestingly, women are more likely to suffer from tension headaches than men.

Tension headaches are classified according to frequency: infrequent episodic (less than one headache per month), frequent episodic (1 to 14 days per month) or chronic. Most people suffer them just once or twice a month, and there is no single trigger. Pain and discomfort is made worse with insufficient rest, poor posture, stress or depression.

Relevant Conditions
Common Types
  • Episodic (1 to 14 days per month)
  • Chronic (15 days or more per month)
Side Effects
  • Mild to moderate pain
  • Dull tightness
  • Feeling bands of pressures
Share this article
  • Harvard Medical School. "4 ways to tame tension headaches." Harvard Health Publications. March 2013. http://www.health.harvard.edu. Accessed Aug. 2013.
  • Harvard Medical School. "Migraine Relief.” Harvard Mental Health. Healthbeat 2013. http://www.health.harvard.edu. Accessed Sept. 2013.
  • Cleveland Clinic. "Tension-Type Headaches." Diseases & Conditions. http://my.clevelandclinic.org. Accessed Aug. 2013.
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