Almost every adult has experienced a headache at some point. Taking control of your headaches can be detrimental in all aspects of daily life, including your ability to focus and concentrate at work. Headaches can impair your ability to read and write.  They can make you irritable and affect your relationships.

The most common type of headache is a tension headache.  According to the Mayo Clinic, over 33% of men and 50% of women have experienced tension headaches.  Headaches are often confused with migraines.  A tension headache feels like an elastic band is squeezing around the head.  It is caused by muscles tightening between the head and neck, oftentimes caused by poor computer ergonomics and posture, including while using hand held devices.  Another common cause of tension headaches is trauma, such as a whiplash injury from a car accident.  The good news:  Muscle imbalances can be fixed, so tension headaches are very treatable!  Taking control of your headaches by following these 3 steps:

Step one:  Relax tight muscles by doing a self-release technique at home as follows:

  • Place two tennis balls placed in a sock (racquetballs or lacrosse balls work well too).
  • While lying on your back in bed or on the floor (with no pillow under your head), place a rolled up hand towel under your neck. Place the tennis balls above the towel so they put pressure on the tender muscles at the base of your skull.
  • Do some deep breathing while you relax in this position for 5 minutes or so, causing these tight muscles to release.
  • Repeat 1-2x/day until your headaches are gone.

Step two:  Perform neck stretches daily, holding each stretch for 30-60 seconds.  A physical &/or occupational therapist can teach you how to perform these exercises correctly and effectively.

Step three:  Strengthen weak neck muscles. While the muscles in the back of our neck tend to be tight, the deep muscles which stabilize our neck tend to be weak.  This increases the amount of stress, strain and load that’s placed on our spine, thus further contributing to tension headaches.   A qualified physical &/or occupational therapist can teach you how to perform specific strengthening exercises designed to “wake up” these weak neck muscles.

In addition to muscle imbalances, there are several triggers for tension headaches, including the following: 

-Lack of sleep

-Stress and/or anxiety

-Certain foods including processed meats

-Caffeine

-Alcohol

-Skipping meals

-TMD (temporomandibular disorder-including jaw clenching and grinding)

-Poor posture

The good news is that you have a lot of control over these triggers!  Consider finding a headache journal online or via an app (there are several available in the AppStore or GooglePlay such as Migraine Buddy and Headache Log).  A journal can be very helpful in helping you to identify your triggers.

At PDR Clinics, our team of physicians, occupational therapists and physical therapists are specially trained in treating tension headaches, with 74% of our patients reporting a significant reduction in their headaches.  We pride ourselves in using a comprehensive approach so that we’re treating you, the whole person, and not just your headaches.  We will give you some tools to control your pain on day one.  After all, when you feel better, you can accomplish a lot more each day without fear of being held back by headaches!  For more information about our headache program, you can visit our website at:  www.PDRclinics.com.