If you have tension headaches, you are not alone. Around 80 percent of the adult population in the United States suffer from occasional tension headaches. As many as 3 percent have chronic daily tension headaches, meaning they occur for more than 15 days out of a month. The cause of tension headaches is not well understood. They are the most common type of headache. They may feel like an uncomfortable band of tightness or pressure going around the entire head.
Some people can deal with tension headaches with little interruption to their lives, while others find they disturb their life quality, impact their sleep, make it difficult to concentrate at work, and put them in a bad mood overall. Taking some pain relievers may help you cope during an attack, but they do not get to the underlying cause of these headaches and they cannot prevent them from happening again.
This article will discuss how you can change your diet and improve your posture to help reduce the incidence of tension headaches. However, something further may be needed, and we will tell you where you can find professional help if tension headaches persist.
Symptoms of Tension Headaches
The following symptoms are often associated with tension headaches:
- Achy, dull head pain that feels as if you have a tight strap around your head
- Muscle aches or pains on the sides and back of your head and down your neck
- Tenderness when you touch your hairline, neck, shoulders, or scalp
- Pressure and tightness across the forehead
- Sensitivity to loud noises
Tension headaches are usually split into two main categories:
- Episodic tension headaches: These happen less than 15 days during a month’s time and last for 30 minutes to a few hours. Rarely, they may linger for one week.
- Chronic tension headaches: These happen more than 15 days during a month’s time and usually last several hours. They are more likely to be continuous. They have a nagging pain, feeling like they will never stop. Sometimes episodic tension headaches turn into chronic tension headaches.
Managing Your Tension Headaches at Home
Here are some tips you can try at home to help decrease the severity and frequency of tension headaches. It may take a combination of the following to help you see relief.
- Improve your diet. It is important to include a large number of anti-inflammatory foods that provide energy and help you cope with stress. Sometimes you may find yourself relying on the burst of energy you get from caffeine, sugar, or processed foods. This is only temporary, however. We suggest the following habits:
- Drinking plenty of water to keep well hydrated.
- Avoid sugary snacks that mess with your blood sugar.
- Limit caffeine, especially at bedtime.
- Do not smoke or drink too much alcohol.
- Keep your blood sugars level by eating something healthy every few hours. This also prevents tiredness and helps you cope with anxiety.
A healthy diet to naturally keep your muscles relaxed and help you deal with stress is recommended. You will want to include the following:
- Clean sources of protein — eggs, fish, meat, and dairy (eating unprocessed meat, preferably organic helps you to avoid additives that may trigger allergies or headaches)
- Fiber-rich foods — plenty of veggies, fruit, grains, nuts, and seeds which help with constipation (a possible reason for headaches)
- Food high in magnesium and electrolytes — green leafy veggies, melon, bananas, and sweet potatoes are all rich in magnesium, which relaxes muscles
The following foods may contribute to headaches and should be avoided:
- Sugar causes hormonal changes and stresses the adrenal glands
- Food allergens such as gluten, dairy from cows, peanuts, eggs, soy, and shellfish can bring on muscle stiffness, constipation, and headaches
- Too much salt from processed foods can cause dehydration and muscle contraction.
- Alcohol can change blood flow to the brain and cause dehydration, altering electrolyte levels.
- Try to improve your posture: Poor posture can lead to neck, shoulder, or scalp muscle tension or pinched nerves, causing head pain. It can be even more intense for people who have previously had an injury affecting the spine, shoulders, or neck. In order to improve your posture, both while sitting and standing, hold your shoulders back and your head level and parallel to the ground. Do not hunch forward. If you are required to sit a long time at a desk, use a chair that is supportive and helps your muscles relax naturally. Keep your computer screen at eye level and pull in your core abdominal muscles to keep you sitting upright. The best and most supportive kind of desk chairs are ones that keep your spine long and back upright so your head does not slump forward. Your thighs should also remain parallel to the ground.
Professional Help for Tension Headaches
While the above suggestions can help with tension headaches, sometimes more is needed. You may have a misalignment in the bones of the upper cervical spine, causing you to develop tension headaches. If either the C1 or C2 vertebra is out of alignment, it may be putting the brainstem under stress and causing the brainstem to malfunction. The upper cervical bones may also be stressing the neck muscles and pinching nerves — another reason for tension headaches.
Upper cervical chiropractors see much success in caring for patients with tension headaches and other headache types. We focus on making sure the top bones of the neck are in their proper place. If they are not, we use a method that is gentle and specific to help realign the bones. We are not required to pop or crack the neck to see positive results. Our technique encourages these bones to realign naturally without putting more stress on the body. This often helps immensely with tension headaches.