Originate from muscles and joints in the neck and shoulders and are the most common form of primary headache. These headaches are not life-threatening and usually are caused by poor work-related posture, stress or neck injuries such as whiplash.
Tension headaches are found in about 35 per cent of the general population. This means seven million Australians are likely to have these headaches at any point in time. The exact cause of tension headaches is not clear. However, certain things are known to trigger them, including:
Stress and anxiety
People prone to tension headaches are often prone to the effects of stress as well as depression and anxiety. A major effect of these factors is muscle tension in the neck and shoulders that have attachments on and around the skull. Stress and anxiety contribute to reductions in pain thresholds, making it more likely that a headache will occur in situations others might consider normal.
Poor/uncomfortable work posture and/or sustained reading in association with bright lights.
Work stations, even when set up correctly, can cause headaches. The issue most relevant to headaches in these cases is monitor position. It should be at least 60cm away from you and slightly below eye level.
Eyesight can deteriorate without your knowing and is increasingly common as aging people use computers. Even if you have prescription glasses, it may be time to get reassessed. Be aware that wearing bifocals demands titling of the head backwards and can contract the neck muscles that attach to the back of the skull.
Irregular meal times
Hunger causes muscles in the neck to tighten and can trigger a headache. Missing or delaying meals also causes a drop in blood sugar levels that leads to the body releasing hormones to counter low glucose levels, which also trigger headaches.
Symptoms of a tension headache include:
If you experience tension headaches, there are various types of manual treatments, such as those offered by an osteopath or a massage therapist, that help to improve joint mobility and reduce muscle tension in the neck, shoulders and upper back.
Treatments can include soft tissue massage and joint mobilisation using articulation and manipulation techniques. These aim to improve blood circulation to and from the from the head and neck. If you experience frequent tension headaches, keep a diary to try to identify what may causing them.
Know and understand triggers of your headache