Locations:
Search IconSearch
November 24, 2020/Living Healthy/Primary Care

Easing Your Tension Headaches: 7 Tips From a Chiropractor

Bad habits that lead to headaches and how to overcome them

man suffering from tension headache

Combine stress, repetitive activities and poor posture, and what do you get? Tension headaches.

Advertisement

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

They encircle your head like a too-tight crown. “Fortunately, you can do a lot on your own to prevent or relieve tension-type headaches,” says chiropractor Andrew Bang, DC.

“You don’t always have to go to a physical therapist, massage therapist or chiropractor.”

A recipe for trouble

Work pressures, relationship stress and other life challenges can cause tension headaches.

When you add repetitive activities and poor posture to the mix, “the pain starts in your neck and shoulders, slowly travels up the base of your skull and then wraps around your head,” says Dr. Bang.

The following activities can contribute to tension headaches:

“These activities overstretch the muscles on the back of your neck and weaken them, increasing your susceptibility to tension headaches,” says Dr. Bang. “The second part of the problem is that using any muscle too much leads to pain and, often, spasms.”

Episodic vs. chronic

Episodic tension headaches are often tied to stressful events. They typically come on quickly and are fairly painful. “These headaches resolve once the stressful event is over or when you take over-the-counter medication,” says Dr. Bang.

Chronic tension headaches can recur daily. They may come on as you wake up or after a long day of work or activity. “The muscles in your neck and scalp tend to stay contracted,” he says. “Pain and tightness develop on both sides of the head, in the forehead and at the base of the skull.”

7 ways to manage tension headaches

To prevent or to ease tension headaches, Dr. Bang recommends the following:

  1. Minimize stress: Try to avoid or limit stressful events.
  2. Take breaks: Limit the time you spend looking down at your phone. Take breaks on long drives.
  3. Adjust the way you sleep: Try sleeping on your back or on your side with a body pillow and your neck in neutral posture.
  4. Exercise and stretch: Use a therapy cane or a hard therapy ball to massage out or stretch your neck and shoulder muscles.
  5. Use over-the-counter medicines: Aspirin, ibuprofen or acetaminophen can be quite effective for episodic tension headaches.
  6. Consider drug-free treatment: Try massage therapy, chiropractic treatment, physical therapy or acupuncture.
  7. See a dentist: If you’re clenching your jaw and getting headaches, look for a dentist knowledgeable about temporomandibular joint (TMJ) syndrome. “The right mouth guard can really help,” says Dr. Bang.

Advertisement

Dr. Bang points out that the good thing about drug-free treatments is that any side effects (increased soreness, stiffness or bruising) go away on their own.

What about rubbing your temples when a tension headaches starts to build — does it help? “Muscle tension varies, so rubbing on your temples may not bring relief,” says Dr. Bang. “But rubbing on the tender spots, or trigger points, in your neck and shoulder muscles can help.”

If tension headaches don’t go away after trying these suggestions, it may be time to look at the psychological stress in your life, he notes.

Advertisement

Learn more about our editorial process.

Related Articles

Male with arms outstretched toward hunched over female, with broken heart and holding hands wreath around her
June 10, 2024/Sex & Relationships
What Is the Cycle of Abuse and How Do You Break It?

The cycle of abuse is a simple theory for understanding relationship violence — but the model might not fit everyone’s situation

Happy couple sleeping in bed together, holding hands
June 3, 2024/Sleep
The Scandinavian Sleep Method: A Surprisingly Simple Fix for Couples Struggling With Blanket-Hogging

Sleeping with separate blankets can help you get the ZZZs you need — without fighting for covers all night

People volunteering at a food drive
June 3, 2024/Mental Health
How To Make — and Nourish — New Friendships When You’re an Adult

Look to activities you enjoy — or try a new hobby — to help foster meeting new people

Partners sitting at breakfast table on their phones
May 31, 2024/Sex & Relationships
What It Means To Be ‘Aromantic’

This romantic orientation involves little to no romantic attraction to others and exists on a spectrum

Person observing a loving couple
May 15, 2024/Mental Health
Resentment: How It Can Creep In and Take Hold

The key to letting go of resentment is unpacking complex emotions and learning how to express them

Teen lying on bed holding cell phone up reading it
May 9, 2024/Parenting
Sexting: The Risks and How To Talk to Your Children About It

Sexting has become all too common among kids, putting them at risk for bullying, blackmailing and human trafficking

Two caregivers, with one holding a child on shoulders, walking happily outside
May 1, 2024/Parenting
Our Safe and Responsible Guide To Co-Parenting

Keeping open lines of communication and working together as a team for your children are key to co-parenting

yin-yang-type hands in black and red
April 30, 2024/Sex & Relationships
What Are Karmic Relationships?

Don’t let the romantic terminology fool you: Karmic relationships are dysfunctional by definition

Trending Topics

Female and friend jogging outside
How To Increase Your Metabolism for Weight Loss

Focus on your body’s metabolic set point by eating healthy foods, making exercise a part of your routine and reducing stress

stovetop with stainless steel cookware and glassware
5 Ways Forever Chemicals (PFAS) May Affect Your Health

PFAS chemicals may make life easier — but they aren’t always so easy on the human body

jar of rice water and brush, with rice scattered around table
Could Rice Water Be the Secret To Healthier Hair?

While there’s little risk in trying this hair care treatment, there isn’t much science to back up the claims

Ad