Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Tension headache

Tension headaches are very common – almost everyone will have a tension headache at some time.

Symptoms

The pain is often dull and persistent. It often starts at the back of the head or temples, then spreads, becoming like a band around the head. It may feel like pressure or tightness. A tension headache may last for days.

Causes

Tension headaches are probably caused by muscle tension.

This muscle tension can be caused by:

  • stress and tiredness
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • overusing your neck or shoulder muscles
  • working in poor conditions, or spending too much time hunched at your desk
  • bright, noisy environments
  • long periods of reading
  • too much smoking or coffee
  • overuse of painkillers, including headache tablets.

Diagnosis

Your doctor will diagnose tension headaches by talking to you and examining you. There is no specific test to diagnose tension headaches. However your doctor may do tests to exclude other causes of headache.

Treatment

You can ease tension headaches by:

  • taking pain relief medicines such as paracetamol or other over-the-counter painkillers
  • heat, through a hot bath or a heat pack
  • massage of the head, neck and shoulders.

In the long term, you could prevent tension headaches through:

If you are getting a lot of tension headaches, it is usually a pointer to something that is not quite right in your life. Talk to a doctor or counsellor.

Not sure what to do next?

If you are still concerned about your tension headaches, check your symptoms with healthdirect’s online Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.

The Symptom Checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it’s self care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).

Last reviewed: July 2015

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Found 245 results

Tension-type Headache - Headache Australia

Tension-type headache is the most widespread headache disorder. Recent international studies have shown the average prevalence as 36% for men and 42% for women (cf migraine: 6% for men and 18% for women). This means that about 7 million Australians are likely to have tension-type headaches. A recent WHO report states that onset is often... Read more

Read more on Headache Australia website

Acupuncture for tension-type headache | Cochrane

The available evidence suggests that a course of acupuncture consisting of at least six treatment sessions can be a valuable option for people with frequent tension-type headache.

Read more on Cochrane (Australasian Centre) website

Children and headache - Headache Australia

Headache in Children and Adolescents a Frequent Symptom Headache is a frequent symptom in children and adolescents, many cases not being seen by doctors. Studies have shown that prevalence increases from preschool age (3-8%) to mid-adolescence (57-82%). One of the recommendations of a recent World Health Organization report Headache Disorders and Public Health was... Read more

Read more on Headache Australia website

Headache

Most headaches are not serious. However, sometimes, when associated with other signs and symptoms, headaches may be an indication of a serious underlying condition.

Read more on WA Health website

History of Headache - Headache Australia

History of Headache Headache in Ancient Times As early as 7000 BC, signs of ancient neurosurgery were evident. Neolithic skulls show that trepanation (the removal of a segment of bone from the skull) was widely performed. Trepanation may have been performed to release demons and evil spirits from the head. Ancient man believed these spirits... Read more

Read more on Headache Australia website

Headache Management - Headache Australia

Towards a Better Life Headache is a very individual condition. It is not life threatening but it can profoundly affect quality of life. Headache sufferers are uniquely placed in that they can determine factors common to their own condition, learn more about their own condition and headache in general, and develop a plan to manage... Read more

Read more on Headache Australia website

Headache Management - Headache Australia

Towards a Better Life Headache is a very individual condition. It is not life threatening but it can profoundly affect quality of life. Headache sufferers are uniquely placed in that they can determine factors common to their own condition, learn more about their own condition and headache in general, and develop a plan to manage... Read more

Read more on Headache Australia website

What Is Headache - Headache Australia

One of the Most Common Symptoms Experienced by Humans. Headache is one of the commonest symptoms experienced by humans. In fact, it is quite unusual not to have at least an occasional headache. Why some people never experience headache is not known. It is probably linked with their inheritance of the chemical transmitters that pass... Read more

Read more on Headache Australia website

Headache & Migraine Diaries - Headache Australia

Some useful tools for you to use to manage your headaches and migraines are below: Chronic Headache & Migraine Diaries for: Women Men Children 2015 Headache Diary Helping Your Doctor Treat Your Headache: Questions to consider

Read more on Headache Australia website

Cluster Headache - Headache Australia

Cluster headache is an extraordinarily painful, rare (affects about 1 per 1000, estimated 14,000 Australians) chronic disease affecting five times as many men as women. Cluster headaches usually develop between the ages of 20 and 40. It occurs rarely in children and is extremely rare after 70-75. The term cluster is used as the attacks... Read more

Read more on Headache Australia website

Check your symptoms Find a health service

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice and information you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo
Feedback