By Elizabeth Foley
If you feel like you have a tight band wrapped around your head, you are probably experiencing a tension headache. Tension headaches occur when the muscles in your neck, back and scalp tighten to a painful degree. There are a number of reasons the muscles involved in a tension headache become stiff and aggravated. Here are the most common tension headache triggers and five natural ways to achieve long-lasting relief.
Tension Headache Causes
Muscles may become tense and tender due to the following:
Looking at computer screens and digital devices for an extended period requires concentrated vision, leading to eye strain. Tension headaches are a common symptom of eye strain. A comprehensive eye exam is the best way to diagnose the cause of eye strain-related discomfort.
Slouching strains the muscles in your upper back, neck, head and jaw. Poor posture leads to tension headaches and back pain because the involved muscles become achy and ischemic.
When you yawn, talk, eat, and breathe, the muscles and tendons of the jaw are working. Teeth grinding exhausts the muscles that connect the skull to the jaw bone. Exhausting the jaw muscles leads to a tension headache and creates a persistent dull ache in the jaw.
Losing more water than you are taking in causes dehydration. Even a mild case of dehydration can cause a headache because the body needs a proper balance of electrolytes and fluid to function properly.
Tension Headache Relief
Here are five scientifically backed ways to relieve a tension headache naturally:
1. Magnesium Supplements
A body of research has established magnesium supplements’ usefulness for migraine prevention. Magnesium may also be an effective treatment for tension headaches according to a study where 41 percent of patients studied reported ‘meaningful relief’ from headache attacks after being treated with magnesium sulfate (1). Researchers point to magnesium's important role in maintaining a healthy nervous system as the probable catalyst for tension headache relief.
2. Massage Therapy
Massage therapy has been found to reduce the number of chronic tension headaches per/week when compared to baseline levels (2). Researchers found after one week of massage treatment, participants’ headache frequency was reduced and this reduction was maintained for the 4-week treatment period studied. The researchers concluded that pain associated with chronic tension headaches was relieved due to massage therapy reducing cranial and cervical muscle tension.
Rajyoga meditation, a spiritual relaxation therapy, has been found to relieve chronic tension headaches according to one study (3). Researchers noted a 94 percent decrease in tension headaches after participants received eight Rajyoga meditation lessons in addition to routine medical headache treatments. The decrease in tension headache is believed to be related to meditation’s effectiveness in reducing stress and triggering a relaxation response in the body.
Yoga practice has been found to significantly decrease headache frequency and intensity according to a systematic review of several studies (4). Researchers concluded that yoga plays a role in headache management due to reduction in sympathetic activity and increase in parasympathetic activity, which decreases pain levels.
Researchers found hydrotherapy to be an effective tool to manage tension headaches. Hydrotherapy reduces muscle tension and increases blood circulation to the brain. According to one study, after six weeks of treatment, hydrotherapy decreased the frequency and intensity of participants' headaches (5). Participants who received a hot arm and foot bath with a head ice massage reported a decrease in various forms of headaches, as well as migraine severity and length.
It is estimated that 45 million Americans suffer from chronic headaches, with tension headaches being the most common type of primary headache. Tension headaches occur for a variety of reasons and can be managed with conventional treatments such as over the counter medications. Natural treatments are also a highly effective way to relieve a headache. Learn more about natural headache relief at Health By Principle.
- 1. Yablon, L. A., & Mauskop, A. (2011). Magnesium in headache. Magnesium in the Central Nervous System [Internet]. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK507271/
- 2. Quinn, C., Chandler, C., & Moraska, A. (2002, October). Massage Therapy and Frequency of Chronic Tension Headaches. Am J Public Health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1447303/
- 3. Kawalinder, K. (2014). Effect of rajyoga meditation on chronic tension headache. PubMed. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25509967/
- 4. Kim, S. D. (2015, July). Effects of yoga exercises for headaches: A systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Journal of Physical Therapy Science. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4540885/
- 5. Sujan, M. U., Rao, M. R., Kisan, R., Abhishekh, H. A., Nalini, A., Raju, T. R., & Sathyaprabha, T. N. (2016). Influence of hydrotherapy on clinical and cardiac autonomic function in migraine patients. Journal of neurosciences in rural practice, 7(1), 109–113. https://doi.org/10.4103/0976-3147.165389
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