Chronic tension headaches are the ultimate mood buster. And not just for the person suffering, but also for every single person that person interacts with. For those who need a visual representation it looks something like this:
As a chiropractor in Springfield, Illinois, I’ve put out my fair share of fires. 80% of Americans suffer from headaches with 3% experiencing chronic headaches that last for more than 15 days out of the month. That’s basically all of February! Tension headaches are the most popular type of headache. I say “popular” instead of “common” because last week a tension headache said this to one of our patients:
It didn’t end well…for the headache 😉.
What Does a Tension Headache Feel Like?
Unlike migraines, cluster, or sinus headaches which are usually localized, tension headaches like to run free. Symptoms include:
- A dull, aching pain that forms a pressurized band around the head
- An all-over tightness and pressure sensation
- Muscle aches on the sides and back of the head that run down the neck
- Pain that’s worse in the scalp, temples, back of the neck, or shoulders; making them tender to the touch
The pain is usually mild or moderate, but sometimes can be intense which often gets it confused for a migraine headache. Migraines have a throbbing, localized pain in addition to a caravan of nasty symptoms such as nausea and vomiting. Sensitivity to loud noises is common with migraines and rare with tension headaches, but possible.
Though that may be a result of the fact that headaches have a remarkable ability to wear down a person’s patience.
Who’s at Risk for Tension Headaches?
- Those who eat an inflammatory diet
- Women (sorry ladies)
- Being middle-aged (anyone can get a headache, but middle aged folks are most likely to be under a lot stress and have less physical activity)
- People with sleep apnea or those who clench their jaws and grind their teeth during the night
- Those who don’t get enough sleep
- Corporate warriors with bad posture who spend hours a day sitting and not moving
- People who miss meals or are dealing with blood sugar fluctuations
- Anyone dealing with depression or anxiety
- Anyone under chronic stress
Sort of seems like it.
What Causes a Tension Headache?
Tension headaches are caused by muscle contractions in the head and neck, so anything that causes tension and increases inflammation can aid in the development of tension headaches. The laundry list of triggers include:
- Eye strain
- Dry eyes
- A cold or flu
- A sinus infection
- Caffeine (too much or not enough, very much a Goldilocks situation with this one)
- Poor posture
- Decreased water intake
- Lack of sleep
- Skipping meals
- Sleeping in a cold room (can cause muscle spasms)
- Sleeping with the neck all cockamamie
- Dental issues
Stress is the most common trigger for a tension headache, in fact sometimes they are referred to as Stress Headaches – though they don’t appreciate that term. Stress can wreak havoc on our lives if we don’t learn how to manage it properly. It affects everything from the quality of our sleep to our metabolism to our hair to relationships to immune health, and not in great ways.
She seems stressed.
How Do We Survive This Nightmare?!
Tension headache relief may require a multi-pronged attack. The Art of War by Sun Tzu is a great place to start. Lifestyle changes, developing healthy dietary and coping habits, learning to…
…are a good place to start. Many people rely on painkillers and other over-the-counter pain relievers, but there are plenty of natural headache remedies out there that don’t come with all those nasty side effects.
Tension headaches are caused by muscle tension due to stress or spinal structural irregularities and are egged on by inflammation, so here are a few tips to beating back tension headaches for good.
1. Bust Stress
Stress makes everything harder – working out, making healthy dietary choices, getting a good night sleep. It even messes with our hormones making us more susceptible to pain. Finding ways to cope through breathing techniques, meditation, praying, the outdoors, reading, even essential oils, will not only reduce stress’ physical impact on our body but will also free up space for us to partake in the activities that maintain our health. Self care goes a long way and is not something to scoff at. Also, this might help:
2. Sit Up Straight!
Turns out mom was right about our posture. Staring at a screen all day, slaving away at a computer to please the C-suite overlords, is so detrimental to our overall health. Poor posture causes tension throughout the muscles, joints, and ligaments of our upper torso and can actually alter the structure of our spine. An improperly aligned spine puts stress on our nerves causing pain and dysfunction throughout the body.
Make sure that any workstation, whether it be in an office or at the kitchen table, encourages good posture. Keep the shoulders back and the eyes level with the screen, this includes phones, so that we’re not staring down all day. Our cervical spine actually curves the other way, so staring down at any device for long periods of time can cause neck pain, creating muscle tension that travels up to the head.
3. Get Moving
Regular exercise lowers stress in addition to reminding the body what it’s capable of doing. It improves circulation and builds the strength necessary to stabilize our spine and support good posture.
Exercise also releases endorphins which are a natural painkiller!!!
This woman just ran up the Swiss Alps and was so happy about it she burst into song. And she didn’t even break a sweat! No wonder she’s a nuisance to those nuns.
4. Eat to Heal
Busting stress is easier when our body is properly fueled. Focusing on an anti-inflammatory diet will support healthy energy levels so we can be intentional about our posture and commit to a regular exercise routine. This can be done by:
- Staying hydrated
- Skipping refined sugar snacks that mess with blood sugar
- Quitting smoking and cutting back on alcohol
- Limiting caffeine amounts, especially close to bed time
- Filling the produce drawer with green leafy vegetables, broccoli, beets, blueberries, and pineapple.
(Pineapples are just fun to have around because they are so crazy looking and in the olden days when guests were coming over a pineapple was left out to show status and wealth. That one’s for free.)
- Loading up on omega-3f fats through fish, coconut oil, and walnuts
- Incorporating chia seeds and flaxseeds into meals
- Updating the spice rack with turmeric and ginger
A good healing diet will emphasize:
- Clean protein to stabilize blood sugar like cage-free eggs and grass fed meat
- Foods high in fiber
- Healthy fats like nuts, seeds, coconut or olive oil, avocado, and wild-caught fish
- Foods high in magnesium and electrolytes
- Our bodies are natural wonders of the world, they are self-healing machines. But only when they have the right fuel to keep those gears spinning and they’re not put into a fight or flight mode due to an emotional stress overload.
5. Make it a Spa Night
Acupuncture and massage are not just reserved for the expensive resort spas whose pictures we spend hours scrolling through but never actually get to visit because we ran out of vacation days in March. They are both incredible, natural ways to lower stress and fight the muscle contractions that lead to headaches.
- Acupuncture uses a traditional Chinese medicine to ignite positive energy flow and relieve chronic headache pain.
- Massage is all about relieving muscle tension and is especially effective when used in conjunction with chiropractic adjustments. Massage prepares the body to accept adjustments and allows them to last longer.
Chiropractic care is the only way to correct any structural irregularities brought on by stress, trauma, or poor posture that are causing pain and dysfunction due to nerve interference. Correcting misalignments through spinal manipulation allows communication between the brain and the body to be seamless and allows for the proper function of all our muscles, bones, joints, and organs.
Headaches may be common in our society today, but they are not normal. Pain is our body’s alarm system telling us that something is wrong. Call our office or schedule a time to talk with one of our doctors here. Headaches have no place in your future, we want to help you leave them firmly in the past.