Not exactly, says Robert Duarte, MD, assistant professor of neurology at Great Neck, New York-based Cushing Neuroscience Institute, who is director of the Pain Center there. The term “tension type headache” describes headaches that are not as severe as a migraine, meaning they usually involve both sides of the head, they do not involve the pulsating sensation common to migraine, they do not occur with nausea or vomiting, and they do not interfere with normal everyday functioning.
Throughout history, tension-type headaches have had been known by a string of different classifications including ordinary headache, muscle contraction headache, stress headache and simply tension headache. As these names imply, experts thought these headaches were directly linked to tension or stress. However, researchers who performed muscle testing found there to be more tension in the muscles of a tension headache sufferer than there was in the muscles of a migraine headache sufferer. Over time, the current, correct term, the one that stuck, was tension type headache.
Like migraines, these headaches are benign. The headaches are divided into one of two categories based on how frequently they occur over the course of a month. They can be either episodic tension type headache (meaning you have fewer than 15 headache days per month) or chronic tension type headache (meaning you have more than 15 headache days per month).
Tension type headaches are a common kind of headache for which people do not usually seek medical attention or advice. Since they are harmless, there is usually no need to get treatment. However, if the headaches become more chronic, worsen over time, or are associated with other neurological symptoms, consider consulting a medical practitioner and being examined.
When recommended, the type of treatment usually depends on the frequency of headaches. For episodic tension type headaches, over-the-counter FDA-approved medications such as Advil Migraine or Excedrin Migraine may be effective.
Although these can be helpful, be aware that there is a potential risk of rebound headaches striking with these OTC medications. If the headaches become more frequent over time, ask your physician or headache specialist about possible natural ways to prevent them, and, if those are not effective, whether prescription medications, such as amitriptyline or nortriptyline, are an appropriate option.
Other behavioral modification, including improving sleep habits, or pain and stress management techniques, such as meditation and massage, may also be beneficial if you experience tension type headache.
Have You had a tension headache? How have You found relief?