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Tension Headaches

Tension headaches cause a dull, steady pain on both sides of the head and in the neck and the back of the head. The eyes may also feel tired. Tension headaches can be triggered by lack of sleep, poor posture, eyestrain, stress, and other factors.

Man with warm towel around back of neck.

To help prevent tension headaches

Take the following steps:

  • Make sure your work area is properly set up to help you avoid neck strain and eyestrain.

  • Make sure that your eyeglass prescription is current and is appropriate for the work you do.

  • Learn techniques for relaxing and reducing emotional stress. These include deep breathing, progressive relaxation, and biofeedback.

  • Maintain a regular exercise regimen under the guidance of a doctor. This can help keep your neck and back flexible, strong, and relaxed.

To relieve the pain

Take the following steps:

  • Use moist heat to relax the muscles. Soak in a hot bath or wrap a warm, moist towel around your neck.

  • Brush your scalp lightly with a soft hairbrush.

  • Give yourself a massage. Knead the muscles running from your shoulders up the back of your skull.

  • Use an ice pack. Apply this directly to the place where you feel pain.

  • Rest. Sleeping often helps relieve headache pain.

  • Drink plenty of fluids. Dehydration is another trigger for headaches.

  • Use pain medication sparingly for moderate to severe pain. 

Online Medical Reviewer: Foster, Sara, RN, MPH
Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Last Review Date: 9/27/2013
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